As you read this I'm back home visiting family, and for the first visit in the 11 years I've been away I'm not going to bug my mother to get a computer. I've tried and failed. I thought my having a child would put her over the top, that the lure of being able to videoconference with her granddaughter on a regular basis would be too much to pass up, but I was mistaken.
I've tried to make mom aware of everything she could do online - read newspapers, play Sudoku and do crossword puzzles, catalogue photos and movies (she does have a digital camera after all), send e-mails, do banking, watch stocks, get directions to places, buy tickets for events, make travel plans, listen to music and radio, keep a calendar and contact book, collect recipes, research the things she's interested in... I've really, really tried!
Although her refusal to see the use in owning a computer is vexing, it's still her choice. I figure there were people who once upon a time refused to get electricity, a radio, a telephone and a colour TV because they didn't see the point for any of those things either. People are free to live in the past, in the "before" times when everything was supposedly much better, but I really do feel that they're missing out.
There is a cost to technology, and I'll give my mom credit for being frugal. She doesn't have to buy a computer or pay a monthly fee for Internet. But she does pay for a phone and cable already, and considering she only watches a few channels - news and BNN - that cable cost could be better spent on an Internet connection that would let her do so many other great things with her time.
The thing is, I'm old enough myself to remember what life was like before the Internet and it really wasn't that bad. You went to the video store to get movies, the record store to buy records, the corner store to get your newspaper (if it wasn't delivered to your door), the library or book store to get books, the bank to do your banking. You used the White Pages and Yellow Pages to find people and places, and knew how to read a map. Every home had a set of encyclopedias.
You did your school reports by hand or on a typewriter. You called your friends on the phone, usually after six o'clock when the long distance rates went down. You took photos to the camera shop to get developed and got duplicates if you wanted to share. You wrote letters to people.
Looking back, it all had a certain romantic quality to it, but I don't think things were necessarily better. I'm generally of the opinion that things are steadily improving and that any of the negative things we associate with technology - obesity, alienation, security, identity loss, addiction - are just hiccoughs.
The trick is to be selective and focus on the things you think are of use. Here's a short list of the things I've recently found to be useful - and that you really couldn't get anywhere else.
• Go to Lifehacker (www.lifehacker.com) and do a search for "Saving Money Around Your House" to get a handy graphic that shows how much you can save each year with a little initiative.
• The Real Damage Calculator (www.therealdamage.com) will tell you how much any item will cost you if you intend to keep a balance on your credit card - a must for anybody considering using credit for a large purchase.
• If you have a laptop then TouchPadPal (http://download.cnet.com/TouchpadPal/3000-2084_4-75012436.html) will prevent you from accidentally scrolling or selecting text with your palm while you're typing.
• If you're not sure if your system can run a program or game (a frequent problem made worse by the confusing range of processors and graphics cards out there), visit www.systemrequirementslab.com to find out.
• Have multiple versions of the same files (MP3s, documents, photos, etc.) saved over and over again on your computer, until you no longer know which is the most up-to-date? Go to www.mindgems.com and download Fast Duplicate Finder to clean out the spares. Also try Similarity (www.music-similarity.com) if your issue is mainly duplicate music files.
• Looking for bargains on electronics? Bookmark www.pricecanada.com, www.redflagdeals.com and www.tigerdirect.ca to comparison shop from wholesalers. If you don't mind paying a bit of duty, check out www.slickdeals.net and www.dealnews.com.
• Of all the math I remembered out of high school, solving distance, rate and time problems is the one equation I probably use the most often - you know, R=DxT, D=R/T, T=D/R. Or you could go to www.machinehead-software.co.uk/bike/speed_distance_time_calc.html for an online calculator.