The New Manners: Should You Change Mom's Default Browser?


Perhaps you've encountered this scenario. You hop onto a parent's computer to check your email or do a little work. But, to your dismay, the only browser available is Internet Explorer and (for whatever reason) you don't like Internet Explorer. You download Firefox (or Chrome), then install and launch it. And that's when the drama begins. This confronts you:

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Of course, you would like to make Firefox your default browser, but do you have the right to mess with your mom's settings? Even if she did stress etiquette (like mine did), nothing in the rule book indicates whether it's OK to change her browser to one you believe is superior. 

This is, I've discovered, a fairly common dilemma. When I posted the scenario to Twitter, I got more than 30 responses in 10 minutes. The advice was all over the map because we're all just muddling along, but eventually some kind of standard answer will develop from the average of the decisions people make.

But who wants to wait for that? In an effort to speed things along, I'm going to blend the Twitter responses I got into a Zagat-style manners rule. There couldn't be a better application of crowdsourcing: What are manners, after all, but community-negotiated norms?

"Yes. It's our responsibility to help our parents figure out technology" and "all the powers of the universe implore you to do so."  Besides, "she probably does not know any better" and "you'll feel better." Just make sure to "import the bookmarks." And you might "give a face-to-face lesson," or say, "I updated your browser to a newer version," or "take the covert route" and "install an IE skin on it." Otherwise "be prepared to get a phone call in the next couple of days about 'what's wrong with the internet.' Don't be dogmatic, though. The "only real moral imperative: update security and scrub malware... good ol' nonextensible, can't f--- it up too badly IE has a lot going for it for tech-unsavvy moms."
So there you have it. And yes, we know there are plenty of tech-savvy parents out there. We're just talking about those other ones here.

Thanks to our Twitter contributors, listed in the order of appearance of their quotes.

@Mica_MON, @eugenephoto, @Kim_Peacock, @ihearttheroad, @amandabee, @eugenephoto, @mat, @baconner, @johnpavlus, @ColinPeters, @tcarmody

Oh, and I'm calling this occasional series The New Manners, but if you've got a better name, let me know.

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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