(For example, Google Earth could show her the childhood home in Lithuania. Wikipedia has dozens of pages on her noble ancestors, including a page on her family estate. There are Lithuanian wikipedia pages on HER OWN FATHER and HER HOME.)
At least a decade before Skype, I bought two phone devices with cameras that would display the faces of the callers on both ends. They cost about $200 each. You had to use the device instead of a telephone, and there was a simple sequence to trigger the camera. Not intuitive, but it seemed feasible. We made TWO phone calls using them. During one, I could see my brother and others through the dark screen; they were visiting my mother for Easter. The lighting was terrible. We looked awful. My brother pushed the buttons you needed to push. After that, they sat unused, garbage.
I also got her an “email machine” for $100 that worked like a fax machine. I could send email to her email address (which was the machine). She could “check the inbox,” and push a “print” button to print the message. (Of course you needed to keep paper in the thing.) This was skipping the steps of putting paper into an envelope and mailing it. Monthly cost $10-15 for the service. After two years, and almost ZERO activity, it was removed from the house, garbage.
Many things have happened that improve our lives unimaginably. The kids just don’t know what they’ve got in their hands, with parents paying for the internet and phone service connections.
Here are my thoughts, speaking as someone who went through graduate school BEFORE PHOTOCOPIERS.
· If you want to remember a restaurant or write down the title of a book, now, you simply photograph it with your phone.
· If you need to repair something, you can take a picture (e.g. plumbing) and show it to the person in the hardware store (who is often a woman, now).
· If you see something (a nice pattern? a weird thing? a meal?), you can snap it on your phone.
· You can go anywhere and still tell somebody else “I am running late” and “Where are you in the parking lot?” using text.
· With digital cameras in nearly every pocket, we are capturing our personal lives to excess. Before, you would get your film developed (asking for the 2-copies option) and mail one to Mom.
· We can make digital photo albums and print them or share them online. You can make a copy of THE ONE FAMILY ALBUM that everybody wants.
· We can see and talk to someone across the world FOR FREE, AS LONG AS YOU WANT. (Hint: You need a computer, Internet access, and something like Skype.) When I was in India in 1971, a phone call was $30-$50. An air-letter (the lightest paper possible) could take WEEKS to arrive.
· You can send a copy of an important document (your driver’s license) immediately, via text + photo from your cell phone.
· If you forgot the name of a writer or a book or where to buy something, you can google it using your phone while you are talking.
My mother didn’t learn computer technology although some of it was already common for thirty years. Remember when we stopped developing film and you abandoned your film camera for the tiny thing in your pocket? Which is also a phone, now?
I studied “the Digital Divide” in the 90’s and after. People without computers could not use digital cameras because they could not upload the pictures easily. You had to know how to use the computer to do that. With phones, now, they can snap, store and show without a computer. The smart phone IS the computer.
Now I am aware of very senior seniors who “don’t open attachments” on email, who don’t know what to do with a “website” or “URL;” who “are not really on email;” who have trouble filling out forms or signing up for things or buying tickets when they are ONLY AVAILABLE online.
Did you know that you could visit a family gathering across the world and talk to everybody, see the baby, see the house, see the garden, hear the music—with a smart phone and Skype, FOR FREE?
Being thirty years out of date is a long time. The big barriers are: knowledge (what’s out there, what’s easy, where to get it); cost (smart phone or tablet, WiFi, smart phone service); and comfort.
I think we need an army of “catchers in the rye” who patiently bring along those who just aren’t going to move along. Seniors might have children and grandchildren help the learning. Libraries are our communal solution. Watch the lines of people waiting libraries to open who rush in to claim a seat at a computer. And take a class.
In the Third World, illiterate villagers picked up on smart phones as fast as a single one could be bought and shared. Phone entrepreneurs will rent time on their phones—they become the phone and internet station for the community. I hear that villagers can check market prices for the few goods they will carry on their heads to the market, they can bank using the phone, they’ll talk to relatives far away. Word that these things were possible traveled very fast. It wasn’t too hard because it became a magical life-line.