My mother is a Luddite. Any technology given to her will automatically cease working, mostly because she has no idea how to use it. My father is happy to use any tool that can be bought from Sears, but only if it doesn’t include batteries. This has made for some very interesting conversations.
For example, the computer in my parent’s home is ancient. I bought it in 2001. It is the size of a dozen iPads stacked on top of each other and has almost no programs on it excluding the absolute basics. It runs on a dial-up and it’s version of Word is practically in old English. My mother uses the Internet once a month (for those few web sites that will actually load) and Word once a year to print dog graduation certificates. (Don’t ask.) And every year, she calls to ask me how to do it. But now, she wants a laptop. I have begged her to just go to her local library instead when she needs to surf the web. She also wants Skype so that she can see more of the grandkids. By the time she turned it on and figured out how to position it, she could drive the hour to see them in person. My husband flat-out refuses to help them buy or install one. There are reasons for this.
Reason 1: Paranoia. My parents honestly believe that their GPS lies to them – on purpose. My father cannot understand that it isn’t lying; the problem is that he isn’t listening. When the GPS says to turn in 1 mile, he turns immediately. He doesn’t process what he hears, he just obeys it. (No doubt this is his survival mechanism for living with my mother.) When the GPS inevitably tells him to turn around, he blames it for sending him in the wrong direction in the first place. Plus, my mother likes to point out every single turn and exit you shouldn’t take, even if there is no reason for you to try to take it. She’s like an anti-GPS and the real one just can’t compete with her.
Reason 2: Parsimony. My mother refuses to pay a dime for electronics she believes she doesn’t need, but could actually use. (This is in direct contrast to her ability to spend obscene amounts of money at Boscov’s for items she won’t use, but believes she may need in the future. It’s a conundrum.) She is currently planning to demote her cable package back down to the absolute basic service. As she puts it, she can never find the other channels anyway because, and I quote, “They move around too much.” People, I am not kidding. My genetic code links me to a human being who honestly believes channels change stations on a daily basis just to fuck with her. This is a woman who not only still uses a VCR to tape shows, but in the 22 years since the technology entered our home, hasn’t actually figured out how to program it correctly and only manages to tape one attempt out of three. I have fruitlessly explained that a DVR would automatically tape everything and help her find new channels to watch. No go.
Reason 3: Impatience. My father once hit so many buttons consecutively in an effort to simply change the channel that he wound up five sub-menus deep and managed to turn one half of the screen black and white and the other half upside down. True story. It took my husband ages to fix it. When cell phones first became popular, my mother asked for and received a child-friendly one. It only had five buttons total and I had them all programmed perfectly. The problem was that she would hit them simultaneously so that she could never manage to actually make a call.
Reason 4: Blindness. I have bought my dad several of those large remote tablets to help him stop pressing random buttons. I am not talking about the high-tech ones where you can start your car, cook a meal, and watch seven channels at once in three different rooms. I’m talking about a basic remote about the size of the slabs Moses used to transcribe the Ten Commandments. These remotes are larger than an iPad. Astronauts could use them to change the channel from space without even using binoculars. As technology gets smaller, my dad gets more hopeless at reading any of it.
Reason 5: Fear. I received my first e-mail from my mother two months ago. She has e-mail access through her part-time job but waited seven years to send me something out of fear someone would catch her in the act and punish her. She also seems to believe that if you press the wrong button, the technology in question may actually explode. Or at least, that is the best explanation I can give for why she touches it so gingerly and then steps back quickly. There is no “exploring” a program to see how it runs, there is only diligently following hand-written notes dictated by my husband to do one or two very simple functions.
For all of these reasons and so many more, I refuse to get my parents a laptop. I know many people their age who are always first adaptors on the bleeding edge of technology and gleefully use everything they get their hands on to its utmost potential (Hi Dad-in-law!). My parents are not those people. They don’t need a laptop, they won’t properly use a laptop, and they won’t know how to trouble-shoot a laptop. I once spent 25 minutes on the phone helping my mom work through a printing issue only to realize that my mother hadn’t actually turned the printer on. This is not a woman who needs a laptop. This is a woman who needs an abacus.