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Bringing My Parents Into The 21st Century

Posted Jul 06 2012 6:19pm

My brother and I just bought an Apple iPad2 with WiFi and 3G cellular service for my parents using some money we got as a refund for years of overcharging from our health insurance company.  Their Apple desktop computer crashed last winter and was just barely fixed for minimal use, but my father didn't want to spend the money to buy a new one and so I pretty much decided to get an iPad for him and my mother even before we got our checks.  I had it sent to me so that I could set it up for them and give it to them when they come for an 8 day visit at the end of July.  I will spend a little time each day with them teaching them how to use it.

But first I have to teach myself.  The device is very user friendly but still there are a lot of programs on it and more that I downloaded in the App store.  Most of the apps I've gotten are free, but I did pay for a wordprocessing app called Pages so that my mother can continue with her writing.  I also purchased a wireless keyboard to temporarily replace the on screen keyboard because it will make it more comfortable to use the wordprocessing program.  In effect, I'm attempting to turn the iPad2 with an external keyboard into a less expensive alternative to an Apple laptop.  Because my mother is an amateur writer (she's written book reviews for her retirement community's paper amongst other small achievements), I want to make it as easy for her to use this great device as possible.  For her pleasure, I've also added The New York Times crossword puzzles (because she loves doing crosswords) and a solitaire game.  I'm hoping this will stimulate her curiosity and get her hooked.

My father, who is a news hound, will be able to watch tons of videos which is something his old computer does not have the capacity to do.  My brother and I are also getting him a 6 month subscription to the New York Times.  My father is addicted to the New York Times.  When I was growing up every morning he would be reading it and he never stopped, only now, in order to save money, he reads it in their retirement community's library, though he still buys the Sunday paper.  Soon, with a digital subscription, he'll be able to read the entire paper and in addition to that have access to slide shows and videos.  So far I've downloaded several news apps including NPR (National Public Radio) and BBC news.

I got the iPad2 with 3G capability mainly because my parents don't have WiFi set up in their apartment, though there are WiFi hotspots in several places in their retirement community and others in the local libraries, Starbucks and several shopping centers and cafes.  3G allows them access to the internet via cell phone technology.  I chose Verizon because they have a Verizon cell phone and I've heard that AT&T is not as good. Supposedly 3G is not as clear a signal and it's more expensive to use.  You pay a monthly fee for 1 GB to 5GB storage space.  I'm not sure what that means, but when I've used the 3G I notice that it uses up the 1 GB I bought for the month pretty quickly.  I think instead of paying more for more space from them, my parents should upgrade to WiFi in their apartment, but I'll have to talk my father into that.

I just upgraded to wireless in my home for an extra 7 dollars a month.  Finally I am using my Apple laptop as it was intended to be used, that is, wherever I feel like sitting in my house.  Before this it was tethered to the modem.  So today, I am writing from my dining room table instead from my downstairs bedroom.  This is more comfortable for me as I spend most of my time in the living room/dining room area.  So, officially, this is the first blog I've written on my laptop wirelessly.  I will not only be bringing my parents into the 21st century, but myself as well.  So, for the last couple of weeks I've been immersed in studying both the iPad2 and my MacBook Pro.  Generally speaking, I am rather computer illiterate, but now maybe there will be a switch into really studying the new technology and learning it.

My mother said to me this week on the phone that the iPad sounded like something out of science fiction.  I have thought that many times before about all kinds of technology in the last twenty years or so.  I'm really taken with the iPad, so much so that I would love to have one for myself.  It's so portable.    Compared to a desktop or laptop computer, it is stripped down to more of the essentials, but that just makes it simpler to use, especially for people who are not doing elaborate computer art or photography or music, who either don't have the time to learn a full computer or don't have the inclination.  The iPad, or any tablet, is good for children and seniors because of this.  I think it will take the place of the laptop for many people in the near future.  I just read somewhere that Apple is going to be putting out a smaller version of the iPad, maybe to compete with the Kindle Fire.  The Kindle Fire costs about $200 and has many of the features of a tablet.  The goal I guess is to get everyone in the whole world to own at least one computer device, preferably multiple devices.  If they can make it cheap enough and efficient enough, I think they can make that close to the reality.  When that happens, it will be only the most rugged individuals who remain unconnected.

My friend Sam has a laptop to write with, but no internet service.  It's too expensive right now.  But I bet that even she, who is a rugged individual (she lives without running water), will find a way to get one of these cool gadgets.  If I had a little more money, I would get her something.  One of the features of Apple computers and devices is that you can video conference with an app called Facetime between Mac computers.  The app comes already installed on the iPad2 and I paid a dollar to have it installed on my laptop.  One thing, you have to have WiFi to use it.  Anyway, I'm going to test it out with my parents when they get here and I'd love someday to do the same with Jude, if she gets an iPad.  I know Skype has been out for a while, but I've never used it.  So a video conference with my folks will be a new experience.  It makes me think of the Stanley Kubrick film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" which was made in the late 1960s.  In one scene a main character is in a space station calling home to earth and he talks with his young daughter via a video conference.  We're not hanging out in space yet, but you never know what could be in store for the future of this world, if we get that lucky.
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