Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Mom: The Neo-Luddite

My mother is a Luddite. A neo-Luddite to be exact.

If they had a club, she’d be a proud card carrying member.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Luddites were a group who opposed technological and scientific innovations during the Industrial Revolution. These early 19th century English workmen went so far as to destroy laborsaving machinery as a protest.

Now it’s not that my mother is really opposed to progress. She’s not. She likes her electric garage door opener and knows how to set the home security system. And while her car has no CD player or cruise control or electric seats, that's more because she’s frugal. She enjoys things like cable channels and even owns a cell phone and uses the microwave oven.

No, I think my mom’s real issue is fear of technology, which translates into her being rather angry about technology.

After all, she is a bright woman — one who holds a master's degree in social work and nearly finished a second master's degree in fine art. She's just not tech smart.

Let me share some examples:

She has learned to use the universal remote on the TV, which is kind of unbelievable as sometimes I can’t even figure it out. But she’s really just learned the process of “always push this then that” without understanding what she’s doing. Hence, if something is awry, she’s clueless. That’s when she calls to my dad:

“I’m just pushing buttons. Just pushing buttons,” she’ll say loudly, the remote in her one hand as the other dramatically taps away at one button after the other until my father comes running in, aghast and frustrated: “What are you doing? Give me that.”

Of course, she’s a smart woman. He does it for her, which is what she wanted in the first place.

But then begins the explanation of the remote. It’s an act of futility. I can literally see her eyes glazing over as my father or I try to get her to understand the way it works.

“See, you have to turn the cable on first. You hit the cable button, then power, then you hit the TV then power, then go back to cable to be in that mode…”

“But I don’t want to watch cable,” she’ll say. In a twisted way, she makes sense. She wants to watch the network news.

“But mom, it’s all cable, the networks come through the cable.”

I can totally tell she’s not getting it. She doesn’t care. She just wants to watch the damn news. Sometimes it’s just easier for us to do it for her.

Oh, there are many examples like this. She pretty much treats the microwave the same way, pushing buttons, rather clueless to how it works but somehow getting things heated. It drives my dad crazy.

Then there is the issue of the computer and email. She gives people my dad’s email address so they can contact her. She has no idea of how to work the computer or access email. So he has to set it up for her and tell her to sit down, showing her each time how to go from one email to another.

And then of course, rather than compose a Letter to the Editor or other correspondence on the computer, she writes things up long hand. I’ll usually end up retyping it for her.

Then there is the mystery of digital photography, which she cannot seem to grasp. She is an artist accustomed to submitting her work for juried exhibitions on slides. Now that more and more shows are requesting CDs with jpeg files, she’s practically considering giving up showing.

“Can you make a jpeg?” she’ll ask me.

“Yes, I have a digital camera. I can take them and send them via email or put them on a disc.”

“Okay, let me know and I’ll pay for the film,” she says. I don’t even know how to begin the explanation that there is no film, but I tell her that anyway.

Now most of the time these instances are not a terrible problem — just sometimes a little frustrating.

But it can be problematic. I mean, I’d laugh if the ramifications were not so serious sometimes. For instance, she was put on a drug called Coumadin, a blood thinner. It can be a dangerous drug. People take it to avoid forming life-threatening clots. If you take too much, you could bleed to death from a fall or have numerous complications from internal bleeding.

Basically, people get a loading dose followed by a smaller daily dose that gets altered weekly depending on how much of the drug is in your system, which is monitored via weekly blood draws. You need to be in a therapeutic range. Not too high, not too low. Too low means you are not protected and there is no sense even being on the drug.

When my mom's cardiologist suggested she go on this drug recently, my dad decided against it, agreeing with a couple of her other doctors that it was not worth the risk. But my mother got concerned and decided to go ahead and get the prescription and take it.

So I asked her the other night: “How much did you take today?”

“I took half a pill. Dad didn’t want me on it so I thought I’d just take half.”

“Mom, what is your prescription? What does the bottle say?”

“One pill a day.”

“Mom, you have to follow the prescription. It doesn’t work like that….”

I tried to explain how it works. I could see her eyes glazing over soon into the explanation. I chose to see it as a challenge and continued a good five to ten minutes, using analogies and making hand gestures to portray a range as if on a chart, thinking: “I can win her over, I just know it.”

A few days later she informed she’d taken half a pill “because dad doesn’t want me on it.”

I guess it’s better than her taking too much. And she’s too smart to do that.

The other big problem is her cell phone. Oh, this makes my father and I crazy. Insane.

She has no idea how to access her voice mail, use her address book, change her ring style or adjust the volume. None of that. It’s all too complicated.

In her defense, there is way more stuff on these phones than most of us need or even use. Even I have to read the book sometimes. But as a regular technology user, I have a basic understanding she doesn’t possess.

So I’ll call her and she’ll pick up, then immediately hang up. This happens so often I’ve asked what she is doing.

“There’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists.

“Mom, nothing is wrong with the phone. You’re doing something.”

“No, there’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists again. "This phone is crazy."

I think I figured it out once in the car with her when she got a call. That she has it set to answer on open, and hang up on close, and when she’s driving and fumbles the phone she hangs up inadvertently. Or something like that.

More maddening, she somehow manages to turn her phone onto silent without realizing it and, thus, has no clue you are trying to reach her. This is a real problem if we don’t know where she is and are worried, or need to reach her for something important.

Other times the volume mysteriously goes down. If I call, she will yell:

"What? I can't hear you."

Then I scream into the phone: "Turn the volume up."

"What?" she'll yell back, even though I can hear her fine.

"Your volume. Turn it up."

Then, just as I feel thankful that I got her to answer her phone, she'll say, "I'm in traffic. I can't hear you. I'll call you back."


So far, thankfully, nothing horrible has happened through all this. And while I do think my mother would be happy if she easily grasped all of these gadgets and technology, it never was her way of thinking anyway.

And deep down — and this is why I call her a Luddite — I think she likes it this way.

I mean, I feel enslaved by technology sometimes. It would be nice to opt out now and then. Not have to read a manual for everything. Turn off the email and cell phone. Just have a few TV channels. Life might be simpler.

But, mom. Pick up the phone now and then, would you?


monica said...

I so understand, my mom is very similar. I swear someone should teach a tech basics class at local community centers to help such people out

Only the Half of It said...

They do offer computer skills classes.... but you're right! They need to do cell phone 101!
Actually, you bring up an interesting point. I think we as family get more frustrated, hence, are not the best teachers. Y'know? Sometimes you need a third, impartial party to explain things.

Anonymous said...

I do think this is a generational thing -- my mom is worse than yours. She wouldn't know how to plug in a computer, and she still struggles with the TV remote! That said, I do have a couple of friends in their early 70s who are e-mail experts, and have expressed interest in joining Facebook. I so admire seniors like that!

Only the Half of It said...

My dad is excellent at all the technology. I mean, he knows how the computer WORKS, not just how to work it! What a pair they are. :-)

Sharon said...

This is a great post about so many in our parents' generation. My mom knows how to answer her cell phone and make calls, but it's the luck of the draw if she wants to find a number or check voice mail. She lives 600 miles from me, and when I last visited her I showed her again how easy it is to use email. That lasted less than a week, when I emailed her some information she wanted. She called to see if I had found what she wanted, and I told her I emailed it. She said, "I just don't get on the computer much." Oh, well. I tried...again.

Only the Half of It said...

It can make me crazy but sure is entertaining! My mom has ALWAYS been like this with anything technical or mechanical. If it's medical, she sometimes gets it, especially when it involves one of the animals. She is very bright but is just one of those people.... and I know some much younger people still fighting technology.

Debra Darvick said...

I had this problem with a phone. It's not your mom! Certain phones have a volume control on the side and if you hold it in a certain way you lower, or mute, the volume. Dialing 611 can help. It reveals bars that you can manipulate for louder volume.

Now, I can't do anything about explaining that to your mom, however.......

Only the Half of It said...

Never heard about dialing 611. I do think you are right, though. It's a cheap phone and my dad has the same one. His seems to go down too. I am often trying to up the volume and the side buttons are ridiculous -- very small and hard to handle.