Mom ‘smartens’ up

In 1968, when I was nine years old, I wanted to write on a typewriter so badly I made a pretend one out of some old National Geographic magazines by stacking, fanning and gluing them together and then marking it with a QWERTY keyboard. I sat and practiced on the back patio.

Shortly thereafter, my dad took pity on my efforts and bought me a 1930’s-era Underwood typewriter. It had a damp black ribbon and keys so long they seemed to stand at attention each time you struck one. Sometimes they jammed if you typed too fast.

On that clattering hunk of metal, I wrote my very first newspaper copy for the Viceroy News, an enterprise my sister and I established in an effort to keep neighbors apprised of what was happening on our street, Viceroy Avenue in Covina. Our father made copies on the “ditto” machine at his office.

From that early effort to communicate, I have passed through the various forms of putting words into a permanent state: from a manual Brother portable to the IBM Selectric to personal computers with everything from floppy discs to CD drives.

Now I do almost everything, except serious writing—like this column (!)—on my phone. I talk to my children via text, I take photos and share them with friends and family via Facebook and Instagram, and most everyone I know and love does the same. Except my mom.

“Nobody ever sends me pictures anymore,” she bemoaned last year. Pictures? Like those glossy paper things with white edges?

“Mom,” I replied, “everyone sends pictures all day, every day, you just don’t see them because we’re texting them to each other!”

And, so began the effort to wean her from a Nokia flip-phone with a screen that could hold two words at best to the brave new world of the smartphone. I tried to take cues from my own such transformation—remember, I chided myself, how your fingers felt like lobster claws the first time you tried to “type” on the screen keys (versus the tiny letter chiclets on my last Motorola RAZR).

Every time I tried to take my first smartphone out of my purse, I seemed to open an app. I was greeted by what appeared to be a doomsday clock (actually, the stopwatch function) or a Samsung Health app chiding me to “be more active.”

Argh, I would scream and then proceed to touch 15 more things that weren’t very helpful—there is literally a little box on my phone called “Marshmallow Upgrade.” Is this for hot chocolate at Starbucks? No, it’s the operating system.

All these things I dreamed of as a child: talking to my son via video-chat when he’s 6,500 miles away in China or taking a photo without diminishing my eyesight from the flare of a flashcube (basically, a firecracker going off in your face), are now available to me in the palm of my hand. And now, to my mom too.

Today there’s a model like my original Underwood for sale on Ebay for $1,000. At the time we gave it away, its only value was to serve as a rather large doorstop. Things change, but basically, we still want to be in touch with each other. It’s just that now I can share that meme of Grumpy Cat or text photos of leftovers to my daughter and say, “Do you want some of this?”

It’s called progress.


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