Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Introduction to Technology

When we were over to dinner at my parent's home this past week, my mother showed me a small card that she was very impressed with. It had a column with text in it that was next to a piece of clip art. My mind immediately started thinking of how to make it, and then quickly got bored because of the simplicity of the task.

After dinner was over, I mentioned to Mom that I could easily show her how to make something like that. She looked at me a bit skeptically, but took me up on the offer because she wanted me to install their scanner on the computer.

Before I go any further, let me tell you two stories about Mom that will help you understand her interactions with technology in the past.

Dad was a college professor in the Education department, and as part of that work, he started some of the first computer labs on campus (Funny aside: I now work with someone who helped him establish those first computer labs. Small world.). Dad was used to drawing things in Basic and typing up reports for his thesis and dissertation, so computers weren't anything that caused him worry. But Dad has his way of doing things, and if you stray from that path, you aren't doing it right, even if it yields the same (or better) results.

We had an Apple ][e at home for a personal computer. If you don't know the type, think of a large, dusty-gray looking box with two disk drives under a green and black monitor, and that is pretty much it. You had to have a 3 x 5 floppy disk inserted in disk drive 1 in order to get the thing to do anything of value. Mom helped Dad type up some of his reports and things, so she was a good typist. But if she ever needed to do anything beyond typing, Dad would start to explain it. Once he had an suspicion—even an inklink of a suspicion—that she was going to do something wrong, he would say (in a not so calm voice), "Ah, don't do that!"

Needless to say, Mom gets nervous about using a computer. She once called me to ask me if she was in trouble because she had just gotten an error message that told her that she had performed an illegal operation. Poor Mom....

My second story illustrates just how limited her interaction with the Internet has been. One day, she mentioned to me that she wanted to find some illustrations from children's books. She had never been on the Internet besides checking email, and I didn't really count that because they didn't even have a web-based email account. I brought Mom to the Google homepage.

Having grown up with this technology, I asked her to start typing in what she wanted to look for. She said books for kids, so that is what she typed in. Of course Google returned over nine million entries. I showed her the amount of entries that she had come up with, and she was floored. And then she innocently asked me, "Well, how am I going to get through all of these links?" I told her to get through them by using more search terms. I suggested maybe using art or artwork in there as well.

So what did she do? She erased the books for kids entry and put in artwork. I did a mental facepalm, and then told her to put all of those terms in. She just sat there and said, "Oh. You can do that type of thing?"

Don't let these stories fool you. My mother is very intelligent and capable. She just has never really had the opportunity to play around on the Internet, and because of her introduction to computers via my father, she is reluctant to just play on the computer.

I told Mom that I would show her how to make the card, and then let her do one while I was there. At my suggestion that she try one herself, she laughed and rolled her eyes. I opened up Pages for her, and showed her how to make a quick card using one of the existing templates in about two minutes. She kind of blinked, a bit surprised that it was over so fast. I could tell that she hadn't ingrained what I had just showed her—despite the fact that she was taking meticulous notes on a sticky pad that was nearby—so I had her take the drivers seat.

She opened up Pages again, and we started looking through the templates. She quickly said, "Now, I don't remember which one you used. Why don't you tell me?" Instead, I asked some leading questions, and she selected a different template after recognizing the one I had used. She put the picture that she wanted in, and then I showed her how you can zoom in and use a mask to highlight part of the picture.

I had to help her pull her chin off the floor. Not only was she amazed that she could zoom in and out, but she was amazed that she was doing it. I had her do a few more copies on the same template while I was there, and then we went to go get the cows in. On our way outside, she walked up to Dad, starting to tell him excitedly that she could make a card with a picture and writing, and that you could zoom in and out, and focus on one flower from the flower bed, and that she could do it all herself. Dad just grinned, and threw out a characteristic, "Wait a minute. You know how to do all that?"

For those who don't know Dad, he was joking. If I ever got a 98 on a test, he would ask me why I didn't get a 100. That is just how he is.

Mom indignantly retorted, "Yes. I did three in there just now. John showed me how."

Still grinning from ear to ear, he turned to me and said, "Don't teach her too much. I might not see her anymore."

Now that I have introduced Mom to technology, I am sure that next time I go over there that she will have some cards printed up on photo paper awaiting my inspection. The fire has been lit, and it is going to start consuming her until she can get everything down. And I'll be glad to be there to help.