Electronics for octogenarians (or, "Buying a Christmas present for my mother")

51MaoUS4IsL._SS260_.jpgThere are early adopters. And there are late adopters. And there are those who really really donâ''t want to adopt but whose adult children want them to.

My 80-something mother falls into that last category. Iâ''ve tried to get her to use the Internet; she canâ''t get past the mouse/cursor disjunct, that is, the fact that the mouse, or trackball, or touchpad or whatever is on the table, the cursor is on the screen. Her brain just wonâ''t rewire to accept that. Sheâ''s a 100-plus words a minute typist on an old electric typewriter, and thatâ''s technology enough for her.

But thatâ''s not technology enough for me. So I was excited a year or so ago when a company called Presto introduced its email service and the HP Printing Mailbox, which would let an Internet user (me) send email to someone who does not have Internet

service (my mother), and it would just print out automatically. It would even send me an email to let me know when the printer was low on ink. The Printing Mailbox itself looked like a large electric typewriter; this, I thought, was a good thing.

I signed up and was accepted for the companyâ''s Beta trial; free mailbox, service, and supplies for six months or a year or something like that. I told my mother about the system, and said that all she needed to do was to plug it into the wall and into her phone line, and put in paper; the ink cartridge was already installed. I was a little nervous, it would have been better if I could have been at her house to set it up, but sheâ''s across the country for me, which is why I need email.

The printing mailbox arrived. She opened the box, and found a daunting instruction manual. She called the customer service number, and the representative started babbling about how she needed to log on to the Internet and set up her mailbox and indicate who she would accept mail from and select security codes and on and on. She slammed the box shut and sent it back to the manufacturer. I gave the manufacturer lots of feedback about how customer service should ask whether the person on the phone was going to be the email sender or the recipient before freaking that person out. But the experiment was over for me.

Iâ''ve hesitated to try to get my mother to adopt any new electronics devices since. The last one I got into her house was a VCR. I hooked it up; she loved it, itâ''s pretty much worn out now. But Iâ''ve been dying to get her a DVD player; Iâ''d like to send her videos of the kids in the DVD format, much easier for me than making a video tape these days, and there are occasional movies I see that I think sheâ''d enjoy and would like to share with her.

So I bought her a portable DVD player for Christmas this year. She wonâ''t be pleased; this falls into the category of a gift I wanted to give, not one she wants to get. (I also bought her some nice Japanese green tea, she will like that. And no, Iâ''m not giving a secret away, I know sheâ''s not reading this blog.) I decided on a portable because she wonâ''t have to hook it up to her TV (if I were going to be there personally this Christmas, I might have gotten a regular player and hooked it up for her). I settled on a model from NextPlay, I think a made-for-Target brand, perhaps somehow connected to RCA, considering little Nipper on the photo above. And it only has a wide-screen mode, not a 3:4 aspect ratio, so all my home movies will be weirdly stretched. According to the reviews, it wonâ''t last; I may have to replace it in six months. But it has a clear user interface, with three large buttons; one for play (green), one for pause (yellow), and one for stop (red); it canâ''t get much simpler. (Well, maybe a little simpler, unlike the buttons, the power switch is a little hard to find.)

Having learned my lesson from the Printing Mailbox experience, I highjacked the instruction manual and replaced it with my own instructions. These start out by saying to ignore just about everything in the box, including the cigarette lighter power cord, the two remotes, the battery pack, the earphones, and the TV cables, and instead just find the power cord, which Iâ''ve labeled, and the main unit. Then the instructions walk through putting a disc in, ignoring the menus that appear, and simply pressing play. Iâ''ve included a copy of â''Sickoâ'', a movie I know sheâ''s dying to see, and hope that with these basic instructions itâ''ll be loaded and running before she gets frustrated.

That brings me to the point of this post. Why canâ''t every gizmo include one sheet of instructions for the person who just wants to turn the thing on and use it for its most basic function? In large print. For the late adopter. Why did I have to write this out myself, and figure out some things that are not intuitive? (That really stopping, for example, requires that you push the red â''stopâ'' button twice, that one push of stop is only an extended "pause.â'')

Iâ''ll let you know if this effort is a success, or if, once again, my favorite late adopter decides not to adopt.

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