A computer for Nan

I got a Facebook message last night from one of my great aunts wishing me a happy birthday. It was a fairly typical annual note – happy birthday, looking forward to seeing you, have a great day, etc – but there was something extra at the end. She was talking to my Nan earlier in the day and, not owning a computer of her own, Nan asked that she send a message on her behalf too.

—Put a message on Facebook for Terry, she likely said.

There’s a whole pile of reasons why Nan and Pop don’t own a computer – the cost, having another monthly bill for internet access, finding somewhere to setup a desk, and most importantly, finding someone to teach her how to use it. Several times I’ve heard Nan dismiss the idea of getting a computer outright.

—Too much trouble

In a Perfect World
In an absolutely perfect scenario, Nan would get up in the morning, make coffee and browse the latest posts on Facebook. Pop would have the news and weather read to him, and look up a few troublesome answers on his crossword. After lunch Nan could Skype with her grandkids, look up recipes, see all the new pictures on Facebook, and send birthday wishes. She might also play Scrabble with my mom, read forwarded jokes from me, and even see in real-time the great-granddaughter that she’s never seen before in real-life. All these things are so mundane and easy to do now technologically, that they seem silly to even talk about. But yet, as technically yawn-ish as they are, there’s no way Nan and Pop would be able to get from where they are now to there.

The interface is the message
As the US and Canada debate and legislate the right of all people to have broadband internet access, I really hope the conversation does at least a brief diversion to issues of interface. I’m not just talking about the Facebook interface, or the Hotmail interface; when I talk about interface with respect to Nan and Pop, I’m talking about the whole experience.

I’m talking about them having something that’s easy to setup and use, easy to manage, easy to type into and speak into, easy to look at, easy to listen to. I’m talking about something that makes their lives better, not more complicated. Sadly, the modern ‘computer’ that we know today isn’t it. Our modern computer has to be setup, has to be upgraded, has to have virus scanners and anti-phishing(?) software. It has to come with huge technical overhead; it has to be learned.

What’s sadder still is that until we have something better and easier to use, Nan will continue to send me birthday wishes via my aunt, and will continue to miss out on this huge opportunity to make her daily-life in a small, quiet, sleepy rural town a little bit richer.