I had barely touched a computer before I turned 40. I had one at work, but it was there purely for aesthetic purposes. I was the only one of my colleagues who was allowed to hand in hand-written texts to the secretary. It was a bit of a walk of shame everytime I did, but anything was better than having to use a computer. My work would be copied over to a computer by an intern. Usually it had to go back and forth between me and the intern a few times before all of the errors were eliminated from the text. My coworkers knew about my digital illiteracy. They would send me emails, but also sent the same messages through postage, just in case. Even my Curriculum Vitae was digitized by a friendly colleague. Awestruck, I watched him type away on the computer with great dexterity. What amazed me was his ability to switch back and forth between different windows with ease. I was utterly nonplused.
That changed when I got a new position. At my new job computerized systems played an important role. I quickly tried to get into the jargon, so I could at least participate in conversations at work. Stuff like: extracting files, file sizes, user friendliness and modems became much easier to grasp. Practise makes perfect, after all. I learnt how to use Word, after which I wondered why I had been dreading using computers for so long.
I am 43, sick, housebound and very happy with my computer. I use the internet to talk with people from America, Australia, Belgium (even though I still don’t know how to put the umlaut on the e to spell the Dutch name for Belgium, België) and friends and colleagues from the Netherlands. I’m ordering goods online. I even correspond with my doctor via the Internet. I check my email everyday, replying to people who wrote me.
I wanted to introduce my mother to this new world of technology. We went to the attic together, where I’ve put my PC. Chairs were pulled up and my demonstration began. “Look mum, right now we’re putting in a call to a huge server.” My mother heard this and promptly asked me if she should pick up the phone and answer it. I explained to her that the computer calls the server automatically. “Now I’m going to check my mail”, I told her. “That’s a shame, I collected all of your mail from your doormat before we went upstairs. Or is the mail you’re talking about still at the post office?” she asked me. I looked into her glazed over eyes and suddenly saw the pointlessness of this endeavor. Pro forma, I finished my demonstration with a test email to my husband, but the time for explaining the process is over. I shut my computer down, after which my mother and I had a nice cup of coffee.
I’ve already tried explaining the usage of pagers and fax machines to her, but to no avail. I understand why. I used to be exactly like my mother. It’s a wondrous world.
Jeanet van der Vlist, Leiden