Entry 446: What to Do About Old Computers

In this blog I’ve often made fun of my mother’s struggles with the latest technologies, such as DVD players and answering machines. I’ve felt an obligation to do so in order to carry on a long-standing tradition of each generation having a few chuckles at the expense of the preceding one, like when my daughter laughs uproariously at my wife’s inability to shoot iPhone videos horizontally, or my attempts to use my iPhone for just about anything beyond reading email.

When skewering my mom, I try not to go too far, since she does read these posts, albeit only after I print them out and mail them to her via the crack United States Postal Service (motto: “It may get there eventually.”)

My mother, it should almost go without saying, does not own a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, or even a smart phone. Her circa 2003 flip phone does not get email.

She has never even dipped her toe into the Web, much less surfed it.

kissThis steadfast avoidance of the current century is mostly her choice, although I must admit that I’ve done nothing to encourage her to do otherwise. Sure, there are times when I wish I could send her an email, or easily share photos of our puppy (our daughter is 28, so mom doesn’t need pictures of her anymore), or let her book her own JetBlue flights. But, at the same time, I have a selfish desire not to become my mother’s tech support, especially since I lack the knowledge to solve any but the simplest problems, and also cannot speak with an Indian accent.

Recently, however, I came across an ad for the Wow Computer, which is being promoted as a “simple to use computer designed especially for seniors.” The copy of the ad begins like this:

“Have you ever said to yourself ‘I’d love to get a computer, if wowonly I could figure out how to use it.’? Well, you’re not alone. Computers were supposed to make our lives simpler, but they’ve gotten so complicated that they are not worth the trouble. With all of the ‘pointing and clicking’ and ‘dragging and dropping’ you’re lucky if you can figure out where you are.”

I wouldn’t have previously thought it was possible to write ad copy with the accent of an old Jewish person, but there it is. “Oy, what’s with all the pointing and clicking and the dragging and dropping? What do they want from me?”

The Wow Computer sells for $1,079 (Save $220!) and, as near as I can tell, it’s basically one of those netbooks they were selling five years ago for $249 with a 22″ touch screen added. You can’t add software to it. A senior can’t even write her memoir in a word processing program (there is none), although she can write each chapter in an email and send it to someone. The major feature is zoom magnification.

I sat there with this ad in front of me, actually considering whether the Wow computer would be good for my mother. I mean, “Wow” is “mom” upside down, so it must be for her, right? But then I thought, “Why do seniors need a simple-to-use computer designed especially for them?” Why do we treat our seniors as though they’re morons?

There was a time, only a couple of generations ago, when younger people sought out the wisdom of their elders. But the pace of life and the technology it relies on has forced seniors to look to their youngers for help, rather than the other way around. Older people are depicted in the media as bumbling, but lovable idiots rather than sage problem solvers. In our society, older people are discussed as if they are a problem…for children who must tend to them, a health system that must care for them, a Social Security system that must support them.

Yes, there may be impairments as people live longer than they ever have before. But innate stupidity isn’t one of them.

Thinking about all this, I had an epiphany. Usually when I have an epiphany, I take a few Advils and it goes away, but this time I thought maybe I was onto something.

The Wow computer isn’t for seniors; it’s for their children.

Look, seniors who want to learn to use a real computer, do. Over half of them, in fact, according to the Pew Research Center. I’m pretty sure if an eight-year-old can learn to use one, an 80-year-old can, too.

The rest, like my mother, may not see the pressing need for email, video chat, surfing the WowComputer_Games_lg[1]Internet and playing games online–the main reasons they are told they need the Wow Computer. Maybe they don’t think those are good reasons to pay $20 or more a month for the necessary high-speed Internet access. (My mother won’t even pay the cable company the extra $5 a month to get her TV in HD.)

But their children? Well, they would benefit greatly if the old folks had Internet access. They could email instead of calling and video chat instead of visiting.

“Until now,” says the Wow Computer ad, “the very people who could benefit most from Email and the Internet are the ones that have had the hardest time accessing it.”

It seems to me that seniors without computers have managed fine without email and the Internet. It’s their kids who would benefit most from them having it.

As I see it, the big problem with seniors having computers isn’t stupidity, it’s naivete. They are trusting souls who might fall victim to every phishing scam out there, lose their life savings, and have to move in with the kids.

Wow, indeed!

See you soon.

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