By F. AMANDA TUGADE/For The News-Gazette
URBANA — Helen Stout looks a little confused. Sitting at the edge of her bed, she stares at her computer screen and listens attentively to the sudden clicks of her mouse guided by the tech volunteer.
He sits upright on her chair. The screen glows, illuminating the dim-lit bedroom decorated with wooden antique furniture and several neatly hung photographs.
"I kind of know what's happening," said Brian Wilson, the UI tech volunteer. "So, I'm going to quit Firefox, and open it right back up."
He explains to Stout that she had an "old version" of Firefox installed on her computer, and Gmail's pop-up messages are telling her to update her browser to get a new feature.
Wilson's voice is confident, and he is sure of the solution. He downloads the new Firefox version but shortly encounters a problem, which does not allow him to download the version successfully.
He tries again, only this time using Google Chrome, but the download was still unsuccessful. Wilson realizes that Stout's computer did not have enough memory to install the programs.
Wilson delivers the news. He is unable to fix the problem, but there is nothing to worry about. Gmail's pesky reminders can be ignored, and it should not interfere with her email service.
Wilson continues to tell Stout that he did, however, make her email more easily accessible, a request Stout also asked for.
"I'll let you drive, and we're going to make sure you can do this," Wilson said reassuringly, switching seats with Stout.
Stout is relieved and thanks Wilson for his help. Wilson leaves her one bedroom apartment, looking for the stairs that will lead him to the Clark-Lindsey Village library, where he will gather his other tech volunteers and head back to campus.
Wilson is the head of the UI tech volunteer club, a subgroup of the university's Infomatics Club. Every Friday from 3 to 4 p.m., Wilson and his team carpool to Clark-Lindsey Village, a retirement home in Urbana, and help any residents who are having tech problems with their electronic devices.
Wilson said that many of the residents are "interested in learning about email."
Kelly Delahanty, a tech volunteer and Infomatics Club president, agrees.
"The thing they're most often interested in is finding ways to connect to family and friends, usually through email because it's something that they trust," Delahanty said. "It's an extension of a 'real world' thing, 'snail mail.' Not so many people at Clark-Lindsey Village are interested in Facebook."
Delahanty recalled helping a couple — Prudy and Budy Spodek — with their brand new Smartphones. She taught them how to set up and access their email accounts and the Internet, as well as, how to send a text.
"Our grandchildren are teenagers and above, and it's impossible to contact them without texting. So, we wanted to get a phone that was easy for us to text, but we ended up with a phone that can do much more than that," said Budy Spodek, 81.
The Spodeks' said that they have been able to text their grandchildren, but they haven't quite learned the "text lingo" yet.
"We spell everything out," said 75-year-old Prudy Spodek with a chuckle. "We're just getting started."
Delahanty and Wilson admit that they sometimes do not know how to fix a computer problem. So, they ask Google to lend its hand.
The two volunteers said that they try to avoid technology "vocabulary."
"When I say a 'browser window,' I kind of expect everyone to know what that is, and when you're dealing with people who have not grown up with computers their entire life, they just don't understand," Delahanty said. "So, you have to take a step back and think of ways to try to explain these things in a simple basic way."
Wilson said that the feeling of being appreciated or seeing someone's face "light up" when downloading a picture of a new grandson, in and of itself, is the greatest reward.
"Being able to see someone live, just through the screen, right there sometimes, technology can be very beautiful when it enables us to do enlightening things," Wilson said.
F. Amanda Tugade is a University of Illinois journalism student.