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The iPad that I Didn't Give My Mom

For an older generation, computing still isn't quite intuitive

The other day I decided I had to do something about my mother’s computing situation.

My father had kept up the telecom end of operations back home back in the day. But when he passed away, my mother gradually stopped using the computer. By now, the computer is several years old, the connection is telephone dialup, and the son who helps here manage her financial life really can’t function without email. The occasional Skype call might not be a bad thing either.

My mother is a perfectly capable woman, lacking not in the least for native resourcefulness. But she’s not big on technology. When something isn’t working on the computer, it’s daunting and she feels intimidated. Given how crappily computers can sometimes behave, I can hardly blame her. I get along OK, but I was a programmer for a decade and have covered IT for going on twenty years. And even I think most of the problems that crop up are crap.

Enter the iPad. One fell into my life a couple of months ago after years of my being drawn to Apple products and avoiding them because of the way they tend to charge extra for closing down your options for the machine. The iPad is just a complete triumph. Furthermore, as David Pogue noted in his New York Times column, it XXXX. (doesn’t charge a premium for its elegance).

The iPad is pretty darned bulletproof. The basic apps all just work. The touch-based interface is a pleasure to work with. You can back things up to the cloud without thinking much about what you’re doing. And, for various reasons, the iPad is rather unlikely to be successfully attacked by a computer virus.

I figured, my mother will love this thing. Email between us will be easy, Skype is easy. Heck, even downloading a new app is fast and easy. If things get terribly screwed up somehow, resetting the system to factory defaults is easy. Best of all, these days you really don’t need another computer to run your life on an iPad. More on that in an upcoming discussion.

But before I got around to actually handing my mother an iPad, I watched my wife help her shop for a couple of items at Lands' End using a browser on a Windows machine. The Lands' End site is pretty thoroughly thought through. And frankly, the demographic is people of middle age and higher. So if any site is experience is going to work for my mother, it's this one. And things didn't go well.

Without delving into the details, a whole host of things having to do with pointing, clicking, scrolling, and understanding the basic interfaces of commerce are not fully within my mother's realm of experience. It's like she's walking on a high wire. Sure, she knows how to walk just fine, but if one thing goes off track, does she know the first thing about balancing on high wire? Alas, no.

I don't know whether an iPad would be better or worse. Next time I visit I'll bring my own and see whether it makes more or less sense, but I'm guessing it makes less. I still love it as a super-clean environment for doing basic work and probably the best environment there is for casual browsing. Compared to everything else, it's got the everyday security thing nailed. But it's not the solution for keeping up with my mother. They invented airplanes for that, I guess.

Robert Richardson is the chief nomad at ModeNomad.
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