One afternoon a couple of years ago, I walked into my mom’s living room to find her yelling into her iPhone. At first I thought she was having a heated debate with a telemarketer, something she’s been known to do. But I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She was holding the phone in front of her face, chanting in some foreign language: “Kaawwwwl Klaawwwood, Kaawwwwl Klaawwwood.”
I’d bought the iPhone for her a few weeks earlier. I thought it would make her life easier, or at least make my life easier. My mom had been using a flip phone for years, and I was tired of receiving indecipherable text messages and small, blurry photos of either her Airedale Terrier or her curly headed grandniece—it was often hard to tell the difference. I’d shown her how to text on the new phone as well as take pictures, and I’d even programmed in all of her contacts, seven to be exact. The last lesson was showing her how to make calls using Siri, the phone’s voice recognition assistant.
“This thing doesn’t work,” my mom said when I finally asked her what she was doing after another round of “Kaawwwwl Klaawwwood.” With some questioning, I realized she was simply trying to call the man who picks up her garbage, Claud.
At 79, my mom’s relationship with modern technology is tenuous at best. The laptop, the iPad, the Bluetooth headset, even the wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer all sit unused in a drawer in her living room. I think a large part of my mom’s reluctance to embrace technology is her distrust of it. Last Christmas I gave her an Amazon Echo so she could easily check the weather. “Watch, Mom,” I said after I’d hooked it up and set it on her kitchen counter. “Alexa, what is the weather today?” My mom watched the device suspiciously as the computerized voice gave a detailed forecast. She then frowned and shook her head. “That’s how they steal your credit card number,” she said. A few weeks later she gave the Echo to me as a birthday present, lovingly re-gifted in a plastic Ingles shopping bag.
I’ve always been an early adopter of new technology, carrying the latest smartphone and the thinnest, fastest laptop. Today almost every aspect of my daily life is connected to the Cloud, from my home’s lighting and heating and cooling system, to my automated Amazon deliveries and appointment reminders. I’m so reliant on the array of electronic devices that run my life that when the power goes out or my WiFi drops, I feel like I’ve been stripped naked and transported to the Dark Ages.
So maybe my mom has it right. Maybe chasing new technology is a devil’s bargain, a trade of convenience and hipness for lack of privacy and dependence. Maybe a flip phone and a paper calendar are all I really need. Maybe I should manually operate my thermostat and turn on my lights the old-fashioned way. Maybe I should do more of my shopping in person and handwrite important reminders. And maybe when I want to know what the weather is like, I should do what my mom does, open the door and go outside.