My granddad is 86 years old. He was born just a few months after the first transatlantic telephone call. That’s right, he’s as old as long-distance calling. You’d never know it if you met him though, and that’s one of the great things about my granddad: he’s young. He golfs several times a week, grows all his own vegetables, and even owns a decent computer.
Now, here’s the weird thing. My granddad is the author of five books, each written exclusively by hand. He was unfamiliar with even the most rudimentary of typing mechanics, which is why I was so surprised when he asked me to help him hook up a new computer. “Does Pap Pap even know how to type?,” I wondered. After a little work, I had his new PC all plugged in. He even typed and printed a “thank you” letter for me.
And Then He Got “The Internets”
My granddad is a smart guy, but he has lived his entire life in analog. There is this theory that goes into understanding the Internet, one which I was lucky enough to have grown up with. For him, a computer was just a box. For me, it’s a communication device, entertainment portal, and even (on my better days) a work tool. That’s what first made him interested in learning how—and, more importantly, why—to use the Internet.
After his computer was hardwired with a standard modem, granddad asked me to come over so I could give him a “quick tutorial” on Internet use. He was especially interested in learning how to send and receive emails.
I started by sitting at his desk and walking him through the basics: performing a search, navigating a Web page and avoiding pop-ups. I even created a Gmail account for him.
I realized that Gmail is a lot more complicated than it appears. If you’re like me, then you remember the early days of the Internet, when we all had AOL email accounts and GIFs were the most amazing things we’d ever seen. As the Internet evolved, so did our interaction with it.
My granddad doesn’t have that history. His first experience with the Internet was the same day I signed him up for Gmail.
It was obvious that he hadn’t learned much when we switched places at his desk, so I asked him if I could run through the process again. I showed him again, and then I verbally walked him through it and then showed him again. Our “quick tutorial” was turning into a long afternoon.
I left his house discouraged, leaving behind handwritten instructions.
And Then Something Amazing Happened
I checked my email that evening, a few hours after showing my granddad how to use the Internet. To my amazement, there was an email waiting for me, from the Gmail account I had set up for him. Needless to say, I was shocked. So much so, in fact, that I saved the email. Here is a screen shot of the message he sent me, in its entirety:
I know. It’s a completely terrifying message to receive from an 86-year-old person. I called him immediately. To my relief, Granddad was not as dead as his email had implied. In fact, he was very much alive, and excited that he had finally sent a successful email. Turns out, he sent the same message to everyone in my family.
It terrified us all.
After I explained to him that simply writing “Dear Whoever” followed by “Goodbye” could be construed as an exclamation of death, Granddad then sent a second series of emails, explaining that he was perfectly fine.
Since then, we have exchanged several short emails, mostly discussing what time I’ll show up for dinner. Why is this important? Because, I think, the fact that my Granddad wanted to learn how to use email says something important.
As I’ve said before in a few different ways, the Internet is becoming a major part of our culture (if not a culture of its own). My experience with my Granddad speaks to that point: The Internet is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. Don’t believe me? Just ask my Granddad.
→ David Pemberton, Editor, Social Media + PR, AREA203 Digital; follow… @Dave_Your_Fave