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The Old Lady and the iPad

Got an old lady friend slash client who had one of those careers that let her manage to dodge learning how to type or use a computer. So around age eighty or so, and after having developed a moderate stage of multiple sclerosis, she decided to retain my services to get her online and communicating (after heavy encouragement on my part, wanting her entertained and talking to her friends as she would grow less and less ambulatory and more isolated).

So I got her a big monitor for her aging computer, fired up Google and such, got her an oversized trackball but because of her MS and arthritis she just couldn’t manipulate the trackball well, couldn’t even click the button without clicking the button on the other side of the wheel (I jammed a paperclip underneath that one, still not easy enough for her though). Barely had enough strength to type with her best finger. She tried so hard, determined. That can’t be fun for someone in her shape and she could only handle sessions for about fifty minutes.

We made a little progress, gained no traction after a handful of sessions. We were both getting frustrated but were still determined. Then one day she tells me she read an article in the Wall Street Journal, maybe the Times, about how great the iPad is. My first thought was virtual keyboard for this old broad, no way. Then it hit me, wait a minute, everyone who buys the iPad loves it, I’ve never read one bad thing about it, I’ve read things like “even my parents immediately got the hang of it,” I thought about the buzz factor and how she might have renewed excitement to show off to her friends that she went from zero technology to a super sophisticated device, told her that was the best idea hatched and it was her idea, not mine, and I’m the computer whiz.

Her computer was toast. Fortunately she lives a couple blocks from the flagship Apple store. But that would be too big a schlep for her anyway, too crowded and they wouldn’t sell me something like an iPad using her credit card, she was getting tired and I didn’t want this idea to lose momentum so I bought the thing using my Nexus S, AT&T registration and all.

Showed up a couple days later and she called me to get over there for an iPad session. Nice.

On my way over, all psyched up, suddenly it hit me that she lives smack in midtown Manhattan where AT&T sucks bigtime and that might ruin the experience. What do I do? I know what I’ll do – I’ll tether the iPad to my T-Mobile phone! Problem solved – at least during the lessons, I’d end up getting her a wifi router for her otherwise unused Internet connection.

Thought I’d ease her in with the New York Times app but, even though it was free, I discovered that not only do you need to fork over your credit card but you have to plug into a computer with iTunes just to install it. I figured that wasn’t some sort of technological limitation but Apple’s genius idea of getting everyone’s credit card and on iTunes armed to buy songs and apps. All right, next time show up with the iPad, get her going on Gmail. As for the credit card, this old lady had her number – even the CVC security thing – perfectly memorized. That underscored to me that it’s not too late.

old_lady_with_bong_1936x1296I took a lucky guess that Dragon NaturallySpeaking / Dictate or something like it was available for the iPad, that it would have enough muscle for it. I was right and grabbed it. Unfortunately, all it was good for was dictating onto a notepad kind of thing, not straight into emails, so in order for it to be of use to her I’d have to get her comfortable with copying and pasting which, given her health, wasn’t feasible. So I coached her into feeling that it’s okay to type very short and heavily abbreviated and misspelled emails, which worked.

I’m giving you all these details, by the way, should you happen to be close to someone like her. I’m aware this is rather tl;dr.

During our lessons I would cycle through refreshers on the NYTimes app, email, eventually the calendar (still working on that, that’s a challenge), Safari, Amazon, Google Search, Google Image Search, one of Apple’s book reading apps but that was a misfire, just going through those for several lessons to get her more confident and comfortable. By the third lesson I’d discover when turning it on that things like Safari had been opened up, that she was in fact using it and apparently not just to humor me. Fan effing tastic! Our sessions switched from fifty minutes to a hundred.

This mission has greatly elevated my appreciation and respect for Apple products. Growing up giving a batch of clients tune-up jobs for their Windows PCs, same motions every time cleaning out crap, I discovered that if I ever got tired of dealing with a difficult client who underpaid me or was otherwise unpleasant, or was really nice to me and I wanted to end her pain, all I had to do was talk them into buying a Mac (or in my mom’s case a Linux laptop if you can believe it) and the phone calls stopped. The damn things work and they continue to work. Apple did not manage to create demand for their products simply by charging too much, they really did earn the ability to overcharge by delivering over and over with exception, though they eventually corrected this, to signing exclusively with AT&T.

Just yesterday morning my uncle called me to tell me his laptop’s hard drive failed for a third time. I told him I could either replace it for him and install everything all over again – or he could see this as an opportunity to buy a Mac. Told him to ask my brother how he used to call me at least once a week to fix problems after problems with his PC. Then one day in a fit he decided to go Mac and the calls stopped. Which was great, but also a bit of a shame as my brother’s a currency trader, always busy, now we don’t see each other that much.

My uncle emailed me three hours later to report he just got one of those crazy thin Mac Air laptops. That’s great Uncle Bob – need me to “download” you a copy of Microsoft Office? Nope, he went legit that time and bought a copy. Wrong company to feel good about, I thought, but his Apple store experience just got him excited to be a good consumer. And other than installing Bittorrent, VLC and reminding him how to download his porn, I’ll bet anyone with five to one odds he doesn’t return that Mac. He’s a convert. Guaranteed.

Back to the old lady with MS, and thanks by the way for sweating my article out this far, I got a couple questions for you. She wants to print but the computer’s trash, so no printer sharing or relaying software. Are there any printers out there that somehow let you print over wifi on their own or do I have to get her a computer to serve this purpose alone? Other question, no need for one of those keyboard docks as, because of her weak fingers, she screen keyboard is actually better for her, the thing’s a little wobbly. Any dock recommendations? Any other recommendations for her to enhance the iPad time she has left on this earth? She’s old you know. Hope she doesn’t read this site yet (looking at our traffic logs I’m not exactly worried about the odds of that happening…). Thanks fellas.

Doug Simmons