Grandma gets Gmail

emailWhen I signed up to switch Internet providers earlier this week, I completely overlooked one critical factor: Grandma’s email address. Now, instead of looking forward to faster downloads and less buffering, I dreaded the switch. As a mother I’ve survived potty training, shoelace tying and learning the ABCs times three. But teaching Grandma how to use Gmail would take infinitely more patience.

Broaching the switch with Grandma went something like this:

“Grandma, I need to use your computer. I’m switching Internet companies and you can’t have the same email address anymore. I’m going to tell your friends your new address and show you how to use Gmail instead.”

“You say you need to fix my email? Well I just used it this morning.”

“No, I have to change your address. And you’ll have to use a different program to read your emails.”

“Well I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t grow up with these gadgets like you did.”

“I know. That’s why I’m going to show you.”

“Well can I get you to change this lightbulb? The cat can’t see to use her pot and I don’t want her going all over the floor.”

“Cats can see in the dark,” I sighed. “Hand me a new bulb.”

Grandma keeps her space oppressively hot, so I’d already set up her new account on my own computer upstairs. Once the bulb was replaced and I’d sat down at her desk to email everyone her new address and bookmark Gmail, the commentary began.

“I’m making a list of everyone who emails me because I don’t want to lose touch with anyone,” Grandma said with a worried tone in her voice.

“I just told you I’m going to send everyone your new address. And once I add them to your new email program, you won’t even have to type in their whole address. Just the first one or two letters of their name will automatically create a new email to them. You can write all those addresses down if you want, but I’m not going to use your list. I’ll do it all electronically,” I explained.

“You see I’ve done research for some of these people,” she continued, pointing at the computer screen. “I don’t want to …”

“You’re not going to lose anything,” I repeated, pausing between each word to emphasize my point.

“I don’t know all of their last names,” she said.

“You don’t need their last names. You just need their first name and their address and I’m transferring all of that information for you,” I said, wondering how many versions of the same answer I could come up with.

“Well if you say so,” she said. I could tell by her tone that repeating myself was pointless, so I grabbed her list of addresses and started writing down the steps to open her new email underneath. Moving the mouse with my right hand while I wrote with the left, I deliberately avoided words like “icon” and “browser” as I explained the steps out loud.

“See this little earth thingy with the orange fox wrapped around it?” I asked, drawing an imaginary circle with the cursor. “Click on that first.” When the window opened I created a bookmark with a couple of clicks. Pointing the mouse at the new link I said, “Next, click here where it says “Grandma’s email.” I could see her attention fade with each new screen, and I knew I had to move quicker.

Skimming over the last few steps I pointed out the red “compose button” on the next screen and clicked on it, relieved to see we’d reached the email form. I flipped back and forth between her old emails and the new program to copy and paste a contact name then typed the first letter in the address field. I added a short message that included Grandma’s new address and her name, wondering whether her friend would delete the suspicious email not written in all caps.

“See how I just typed ‘N’ and Nadine’s email addressed showed up?” I asked.

“You’ll have to go over this again after I have my second cataract operation,” she said, ignoring my attempt to wow her with technology. “I can barely see that.”

“How were you reading your email when I came down here?” I asked.

“I was reading them with one eye. That’s because they operate on one eye at a time,” she started to explain, forgetting I’d been with her for three prescription pick ups, two consultations and one outpatient surgery already.

“Yep. Just let me know when you want me to show you again,” I said, cutting her off. As I stood up to walk upstairs I glanced at her TV. Suddenly I realized a new cable box would be part of the switch too. Make that two critical factors I forgot.

“Crap,” I said out loud.

“What?” Grandma asked.

“Nothing,” I said. Fielding her questions about the new cable box and channel changes could wait. We’d both had enough explanations for one day.


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