Tuesday, 7 October 2008

more from the archives

I just came across this article written ten years ago by my mother, Dorothy Meade, now in her mid-eighties and recently mentioned in another blog concerning her London anthology, Lines on the Underground. This short piece was written for the Multiple Sclerosis Society newsletter. Mum's problem with the web as she gets older is that everything changes all the time - no sooner has she mastered what to click on to get through to the site from which she buys most of her food than the browser is updated and the whole screen looks different. Odd messages about system errors and security updates can be very alarming. It'll come to us all. The most tech savvy now will find Windows2020 utterly baffling. Which is a shame, because that's when its magical powers will be of most use to elderly us.

Or will a point be reached when consistency is more greatly valued? I'd love to see how something like Facebook or Friends Reunited would mature into an archive of depth over several generations, and dread an endless migration from one snazzy app to another, with communities never getting deeper. Mum's piece pinpoints what remains amazing about the web: that you can find information in a trice and make friends across timezones and continents for nowt.

Here's mum's article. The wonderful site mentioned still exists.

"The millennium looms ahead, heralded by a torrent of new computer technology and a mysterious language of bytes and rams and mice and cursors, v.d.us and modems. The only way ahead for me, I'd decided, is a quill pen. Then my son asked me to supper. "Come and see my new toy," he said, and proudly showed me his computer, with all the sophisticated extras. "Not for me," I said hastily,but he insisted on a detailed explanation in 'mumbo jumbo'. Ten minutes later, weary and uncomprehending, I suggested hopefully that it was time to eat. "When you have had a go," he said firmly, and tried to tempt me with interesting web sites and news bulletins. Another ten minutes and I was at last released, having reluctantly agreed to send a message into thin air on an MS web site. That clearly wasn't for me - the only messages were from pop and disco enthusiasts about 50 years my Junior, so I escaped by sending a message: "Anyone out there , diagnosed with MS at over seventy?" and finally it was time to eat. I forgot all about it.

"Next morning my son rang me. "Mum. There's a message on the Internet for you." That was from an entertaining lady in Seattle. Next a grandmother in Ibiza . Then a new friend from a small village in Ireland. Then I discovered lots of younger friends and relations were on the Internet in Australia, America, Canada. . So to my surprise I borrowed and then bought a computer. And though I can't easily travel, the world is my oyster.

"Do I understand how it works? No. Can I work it properly? No. But I can write to friends without moving from my desk, without hunting for envelopes and stamps, without setting off to find a post office, and a reply can come back in seconds from the other side of the world. A converted sceptic, I now recommend access to a computer with E-mail to anyone who wants to spread their wings without moving from the chair. And a lifetimes' challenge to try to master it.

"Here is the magic website which converted me - try it! JOOLY'S JOINT Find out if your local library has a computer you can use, or try at your local cybercafe.

- Dorothy Meade. 1998"

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