Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Parents Online Adds New Dimension to Life

(From the September 13 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)

I get a lot of emails every day. Some of them are quite surprising. None was more so than one I received recently from my parents.

There was nothing unusual in the message. The thing that was so surprising was that I got an email from … my parents!

Just this week I read a report that people over 55 are online in relatively equal numbers to those who are under 25. It took a while, but the computer and all its features has made its way into most demographics now. Still, my parents are a tad older than 55, and they had resisted the computer era for a long time. So it was indeed a surprise when I got an email announcing they had joined the legion of emailers, and asking for the email address of my sister in Spokane so they could surprise her as well.

Here’s the irony: my parents spent so many years trying to keep me and my siblings IN line; now they have joined us ON line.

My mom and dad used to joke about not using a computer. “We have a Web site,” my dad would say. “It’s in the lower corner of the garage window.” My mom referred to her well-thumbed study Bible as the only search engine she needed. Well, now they have gone from the era of Ishmael to the time of email, from Isaac to iMac.

For a time I advised them that at their age, no longer being part of the work force, they could do just fine without a computer. After my wife and I offered them a brief lesson in the fundamental aspects of using a computer mouse at the Spring Lake Library, that sentiment was confirmed. Navigating a computer was perhaps more trouble than it was worth.

However, in addition to having kids in different cities, they have a large group of younger friends at their church who send announcements via email. They got tired of feeling left out of that loop. They also have a neighbor who works with computers who was willing to help set them up.

So far they’ve made the transition quite well. A new computer resides in my sister’s old bedroom (a fine trade-off in my opinion; I wanted to trade her in for a video game system years ago). Other than one cell phone call from my dad about how to open and view received emails as they familiarized themselves with new software, I haven’t heard of any troubles. In fact my mom tells me that even though she pushed for the computer, my dad has spent much of the time online. The other day he was musing about a job at home and went to the computer, did a search for “countertop wax,” and was amazed at the results. Since they have a dial-up, I encountered a persistent busy signal the other night when I tried to call and check in on them. There’s no one home to yell at them for tying up the phone line.

Now the adjusting may be on my part. I have sent a couple of emails to my parents. But I have to remember to do so. I’m still not used to the fact that it’s an option to include them in a list of recipients when I send out a message. It will also take a little getting used to seeing their name in the “sender” line when I receive email.

But it will be nice as well. They’ll be able to send quick updates without waiting for us to be available to talk on the phone. It will be more affordable for them to stay in touch with my sister who lives three time zones away. And I’m sure they’ll enjoy the multiple benefits of finding all sorts of information on line. My mom might get into downloading recipes. My dad could pursue more information about tools and methods for home projects, or order John Deere merchandise online. They could research travel ideas for their next trip. The list goes on and on.

Who knows what’s next for them. Maybe they’ll have an actual Web site instead of making a joke about a spider web in the garage window. Maybe they’ll have a MySpace page to connect to their various friends. Or maybe not. My mom or dad will probably insist that, in spite of having a computer, “Our space is the well maintained yard and garden we enjoy.” They would probably tell me that in an email though.