I have often been frustrated trying to coax older Obama volunteers to let me teach them how to use the internet. Some people seem fiercely proud of holding out against all us internet barbarians battering down civility and literacy. You might share this with your own nearest and dearest Internet holdout.
Initially, in the late 1980s, I did not bond with our first Macintosh computer. I named it Pandora and abandoned it to the custody of my four daughters for the its first few months of life. A left-hander, I could not master the mouse. Apple had a mouse–training program requiring you to use the mouse to drive an online car. I was close to tears as I repeatedly drove the car off the road to the sound of screeching brakes. My former husband, a radiation physicist, gave me excellent advice: “Relax, it is not like poking around under the hood of your car when you don’t know what you are doing. If you touch the wrong key, it won’t explode.” Windows’ computers love to proclaim “Fatal System Error,” but that should not alarm you. As a public librarian, I have seen hundreds of Fatal System Errors, but no explosions.
Fortunately for me, public librarians are given no choice about computer literacy. You learn or you leave. I quickly overcame my initial phobia. Now I cannot imagine life without my Mac. My four daughters love to travel for both business and pleasure. Anne, the oldest, has traveled to over 70 countries. At one point Anne was in Africa and Michelle, two years younger, was in Australia. Naturally anxious, I cold not cope unless I had my daily instant message or email fix.
When Anne flew to Singapore on an 18-hour nonstop flight. I checked her progress on Flight Tracker about once an hour. When Annewas working for the UN in Kosovo, she had a web cam at work. Seeing her waving and blowing kisses first thing in the morning was wonderfully reassuring. When she spent the summer in Rwanda studying genocide, she could instant message me when I was sitting outside at my picnic table outside, taking advantage of our wireless connection.. That seemed truly miraculous. Now the girls live in Manhattan, Boston, and Chicago. We fully share in each other’s lives because we email everyday.
We have an extended family email list. My five brothers, their wives, my daughters, their husbands, my 11 nieces and nephews and their spouses–all belong. Sady, my far-flung family infrequently see each other face-to-face at holidays, weddings, and funerals. But we have had many more family reunions in cyberspace.
The internet makes it so easy to share family photos. Don’t you want your children to send you pictures of your grandchildren? When caring for my mom in the last four years of her life, I digitalized thousands of family slides and photos. My husband Paul, a computer programmer, wrote software that enabled me to create photo websites. I can caption each picture and arrange all of them in chronological order. Last year, on each family members’s birthday, I created a special birthday website, scanning in pictures many family members had never seen.
My mom was the family matriarch; as her memory declined over the last four years of her life, the family story was endangered. Frequent viewing of her website seemed to clear the webs of dementia and helped mom remember both who everyone was and her own life history. My mom died in April 4 years ago. At her wake, I was able to attach my Ibook laptop to our television set. Mourners were able to enjoy a slideshow of hundreds of pictures of her in her prime, the vibrant, energetic teacher, trailblazer, and activist.
My husband Paul and I met on the Internet eleven years ago, September 1995. We both belonged to a Jane Austen discussion list. We love to tell people Jane Austen introduced us, even though I was on Long Island and Paul was in London. True love triumphed over 3,000 miles, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, and a five-hour time difference. We were married December 1, 2001 and are living happily ever after.
I don’t accept that people are too old to learn the internet. All elders have learned to do hundreds of difficult things. I am 63; I was 41 before I touched a computer. Ninety-year-olds are surfing the net.
Go to your local public library and ask the reference librarian for help. The library almost certainly offers free classes and has computers with high-speed Internet connections free to the public. You don’t need a computer at home to get email. Yahoo and Gmail offer free email accounts that you can use on a computer in the world connected to the Internet.
Mastering the internet enables you to transcend distances and watch your grandchildren grow up. Young people under 30 are losing the concept of paper, envelopes, and stamps. Often I have heard people lament, “I can’t get in touch with her; she doesn’t have an email address.” If you can’t text message, you might not reach your grandson by phone.
I am so grateful I learned to love Pandora’s Box . At the bottom of Pandora‘s box is hope. The Internet seems the most hopeful development of the 21st century, blurring national boundaries, furthering understanding and communication across religious and ethnic differences.