Teaching Your Parent to Use a Smartphone

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First, the power switch, the volume rocker. The touch screen.
The front-facing camera, about which not enough cultural
commentary could be said. Then, apps. There’s one on
which you can read news, order food or a taxi, keep up
with the Joneses, or watch cat videos.

I know, you would say it’s the modern preoccupation
with distracting ourselves, as though “killing time”
doesn’t make assassins out of us. You’d say we don’t need
the luxury of a powerful pocket computer when there are
children out there who don’t have food.
And like you, I’d pick battery life and sunlight readability
over an abundance of bells and whistles any day.

But a gift is a gift, and wouldn’t it be a little unstewardly
to refuse it when providence has so placed you in a
segment of history where technology lets you talk
to your daughter and grandson halfway around the world,
digital face to digital face? It would be like refusing
to eat the vegetables that you said the farmers
worked so much for to bring to our table.

So I encourage you to explore the device and assure you
that you won’t break it—unless by break you mean making
it submit to you as its owner—because apart
from the fateful Reset button, which will give you fair warning
anyway, you won’t mistakenly press something that would
destroy it or render the memories you put into it
irretrievable, the same way you assured us (though perhaps
not in so many words) that we could never get off the
edge of your love for us.

But watch out for those clickbaits and pop-ups that
congratulate you for winning contests you do not recall joining.
They are the candy-dangling strangers you warned us about
when we were schoolchildren.

Moving on, the Back button, the stationary icon that says
return—one mark of our ability to connect to the
past, to undo, correct, revert, revisit; a reminder that
no matter how we may have mastered user interfaces, it is
still a jungle out there, and we are all still Hansels and
Gretels occasionally relying on the mercy of breadcrumbs.

And if all else fails, there is the Home button so that
whatever screen or however far down the menus you may find
(or lose) yourself in, there will always be a familiar place
that you can retreat to, with one tap. Just like home.

 

(Dec. 2015)

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