The world seems to be closing in on her. My mother, 86 years old. Before I go another step, it’s important to note that I have already penned hundreds of pages that plumb the depths of my relationship to her, as well as her own struggles, and those explorations are far from over. But this post has one particular focus—the tech world and how she grows lonelier and lonelier in a world that she doesn’t understand or function in.
My mom she has not had a stroke, nor does she have any diagnosable cognitive decay (if only cognition issues were so simple, but more on that another time).
My mother has trouble with all things “tech.” I don’t use “Luddite” to describe her, as that often refers to someone making a conscious choice regarding the value of technology, the damage it’s doing to our lives, etc…no, my mom’s struggle with the tech world is driven by confusion and anxiety.
She has never been able to master even a little flip phone; she has never sent a text message in her life; her Comcast remote and menus confuse her; her computer is a total mystery to her – actually, she remembers her password to turn it on, and she has managed to send a few emails, but if she doesn’t manage to get to the homepage for some reason, she cannot navigate her way to her Inbox. She doesn’t know it’s called “Inbox.” Even her microwave oven is a challenge. She has never used an ATM machine. I’m not kidding here people…For the last 40 years or so, she has struggled with her little cameras, always worrying that they’re not working quite right; half her photos of family gatherings come out blurry and dark.
Now she wants a smart phone. Augh! Why? Because what does she see all day when she is out and about? Even at the local dog park? Of course, she sees everyone doing what everyone does…. She assumes (correctly) that something very engaging is going on. She just wants to be part of the world. Who can blame her?
My mother is social. When she has company (on those rare occasions when people drop by or when I am visiting her, which is often, believe me), she comes to life. I watch her change right in front of my eyes–talking and being with other people animates her… as if she’s had a blood transfusion, made possible by another human being’s voice within earshot. Most of the time, she is alone, with her two dogs–while they keep her from jumping off the cliff, their chit chat about the days of old seems a bit limited…Oh, she is terribly lonely these days.
The tech world is making it so easy NOT to talk to people anymore. Who answers their phone regularly? The whole purpose of phones has shifted to the extent that I’m not sure we should even call them “phones” anymore. A business tool is more apt. But my mother lived her whole life talking on the phone. The phone connected her first and foremost to her children. Almost as important to her was her ability to talk to her friends, her ability to organize community events, her ability to feel like she belonged to a community. Nowadays, she uses the phone to do ordinary household things, like calling someone to fix her sink, or if she has a question about her taxes, or trying to get someone out to fix her TV. When she’s on the phone with a service person, she asks for their name– might she be able to ask for them if she needs to call back? She tries hard not to complain about the myriad accents she hears, but I see her wince as she tries to follow someone’s advice or instructions. She repeatedly asks them to slow down — then I wince; sometimes I have to leave the room.
I have to be pushed to a limit before I dare pick up the phone for any of these purposes.
Needless to say, she has never shopped online for anything. She wants to chat with the clerks at the store, she wants to run the errand, she wants to look at the bank teller’s new nails or hairdo. She writes checks for every bill, makes a special trip to the post office almost daily to get them picked up by 5 pm. At least she’s willing to drop them off outside the building, instead of waiting in line to tell the postal worker that she is happy to see the price of tomatoes coming down this week.
To simply chalk all this up as “old school” is too reductive. Something very important to my mom has been slipping away for years, it’s just that it’s picking up momentum more and more…the water circling around the drain. Companionship – company – is going down down down…
I’m sad for her.
But I’m also grumpy, irritated and impatient. I lift my arms to the sky, “let it go, Rachel, let it go. Be patient, be generous of spirit.” I squirm in my chair while she files her current bank statement in a box that holds thousands of old bank statements.
My mom never took a pride in being “old-fashioned” or “quaint.” She just can’t make the leap into today’s world. It totally mystifies her. Everywhere she looks she sees these strange little signs…
She has no idea what these are and wonders why they are so omnipresent in her ordinary neighborhood. She wishes she had a real phone book to look up the phone number of the services and people she needs to reach.
I get it. Really I do.
The world is closing down around her. Just as her need for human interaction is increasing with her old age, talking on the phone, talking at the dog park, is less and less available: she is being denied access. The doors are shutting with big signs posted on them.
She has only a few peers left, and some of them have managed to get email up and running, and quite a few of them are poking around on smart phones. She just wants to do what everyone else seems to be doing – being happy, being engaged.
I’m sad for her. I am sad.
I can’t compensate enough…I can’t become a different world for her, I cannot pry people’s curiosity away from those screens. Who can?
Now she wants a smart phone. I can’t imagine her figuring how to make it work. But maybe I’m just wrong…maybe necessity will be the mother of invention here –maybe it will solve some of her loneliness? It appears to be doing that for billions of others…
Sigh. I look down at my phone, looking for the recent cost of Iphones.