Email for the aged – but not infirm

MY mother is 78-years-old. She was a nurse and farmer’s wife when PC meant neither ‘politically correct’ nor ‘personal computer’ but ‘police constable’. To her, a mouse is a rodent and, if you want to burn a CD, she’ll toss it in the fire for you. Words like ‘hard drive’, ‘RAM’, ‘dongle’ and ‘defrag’ make her giggle, and if you mention ‘broadband’, she’ll suggest you cut back on carbs.

While travelling with her recently, I popped into a couple of coffee shops early one morning looking for Wi-Fi. As we stepped into the third café, she put her hand on my elbow and said, with grave concern, “I do hope they’ll have free wine for you here, Pen.”

For sure, my mother, bless her cotton bowling socks, isn’t much into technology. But, of late, having had limited access to email for a short while, she decided she’d like a laptop. With her family scattered around the country and friends asking for her email and “skaap” addresses, she felt isolated.

So I found her a laptop and modem with a data bundle, set it up for her and sent it to KwaZulu-Natal, where she lives in a small village. She was excited when it arrived and impatient to get going. Unfortunately though, my brothers and their kids weren’t around to help, so she phoned my husband in Cape Town.

Two hours and two beers later, he was still on the phone. They’d succeeded in plugging in the laptop, mouse and modem and had located the ‘on’ button. Entering the password took another half hour and was only achieved once my husband realised she had the mouse (or “clickety thing”) upside down.

“Ok,” chirruped my mother. “Where’s my email? Can I do webcam? Avril says she does it all the time.”

We’d created a Gmail account for her but mastering that would require another two hours and my husband was unravelling.

“Why don’t you play around with it now,” he urged hopefully. “Get to know it. Don’t be afraid. Click on things and see where it takes you.”

That was a week ago. Yesterday, worried about my mother’s frustration, I did some googling, which led me to PawPawMail. It’s an email system designed specifically for seniors who want access only to personal email messages and photographs. It was created by software developer, Jackson Hughes for his email-challenged grandfather, Paw Paw in 2009, and uses large text and buttons and a simple, clear display with no log-ins, links, advertising, newsflashes, likes, pokes or tweets.

Having checked it out, I decided PawPawMail was exactly what my mother needed. But, before I could chat to my brother and ask him to upload it for her, an email pinged into my inbox. It was from my mother!

“How’s this for success?” she wrote. “Trial and error eventually get you there. Gee! I have already found that this computer does things for me automatically. See you on the skaap with the webcam later!”

I hope, if I get to 78, I am as fearless and determined to conquer the technology du jour – regardless of how many “clickety things” are set before me.

This article first appeared in Business Day in March 2013 as my technology column.

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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