My grandmother — my mother’s mother — immigrated to Minnesota through North Dakota, from Saskatchewan, Canada by covered wagon. I remember Grandma telling me about circling the wagons and digging trenches at night to ward off attacks. Her daughter — my mother — was comfortable with the Internet.
I first introduced Mom to computers in 1997, when my employer provided me with a laptop, making my own redundant. One weekend when we were at a family gathering, I gave it to Mom, got her set up on dial-up, taught her some keyboard & mouse basics. She learned to use the mouse, like so many of us, by playing Solitaire. I sent her home with instructions as to how to connect the phone line. A month later, she called me with an amazing discovery: she learned that she did not have to be on line to play Solitaire!
Mom took to the Internet like a duck to water. She soon bore the wrath of neighbors and family by constant busy signals (she never did spring for a 2nd phone line until I needed one in January to work, and neither DSL nor cable is available in her rural area). Mom was a news junky, and it became her source of news, thanks to WashingtonPost.com, and she frequently went to Drudge, not so much for his highlighted articles but for his extensive list of columnists. E-mail, as well, she adopted with enthusiasm, and didn’t understand why some people didn’t respond right away.
She never received an attachment she wouldn’t open despite frequent conversations about viruses (Mom: “But Jerry wouldn’t send me anything harmful,” me: “It’s not really from Jerry – that’s the problem.”) She took to forwarding all the wrong information we’ve been sent from time to time (postage fees for e-mail; congressional representatives not paying tax; the epidemic of razor blades in movie seats). At first, I’d write her back explaining that she should not forward an item that wasn’t true. At times, I’d do a “reply all” to tell her entire list the same thing, until she learned the value of blind copies. Finally, she learned to search Snopes.com herself, and if she couldn’t find something, would send it to me for confirmation before forwarding. She never was comfortable, though, sending it back to the sender with a link to an article detailing the e-mail’s lack of truth.
She’d order online, and became fairly adept with Google. She found a hearing aid vendor on line, as well as a vendor for hearing aid batteries. She paid her Visa bill on line, and ordered her prescription medications.
Tech support was always a challenge. She’d call us, complaining “I can’t get to the Washington Post.” It wasn’t long before we learned that her name for her browser was “Washington Post,” as that was her home page. Program names themselves meant nothing. Remote diagnostics were further complicated by the facts that she only had one line (we couldn’t talk and have her troubleshoot at the same time) and the fact that her hearing loss rendered the phone by the computer useless. Trips to Virginia were one part visit, one part on-site tech support, upgrades and cleanup, and one part training. We cured the attachment problem by converting her to Gmail.
Before I arrived in Virginia, one of her favorite activities was Google Talk. I’d be sitting at home quietly, after a long day at work, surfing or often just continuing to work, when a box would pop up from Mom, always with the same words: “Hi, I’m on.” That invariably would lead to a chat lasting 30 minutes or more. How she loved chat! She’d often comment that it was just like I was sitting in the next room, rather than 600 miles away. Her chats always ended with “Know I love you.”
Mother to daughter – a remarkable journey from covered wagon to Google Talk. How proud I was of Mom for embracing technology at age 80. How happy I am for the joy it brought to her during the last nearly 10 years. I know I’m going to have a lot of pangs of missing Mom – but one of the starkest will be the absence of her cheerful “Hi, I’m on.”