Date of publication: September 21, 1998
Though a pioneer in the home office, he never got a computer. And while I have never pushed him to get one, he is a little defensive about the topic anyway.
"The way I see it," he says, "I won't live long enough to justify the expense. I'll probably be one of the last people who didn't cave in to computers."
It's a ticklish subject. I get a little antsy when dad starts talking about his demise. It doesn't do to be dismissive of the topic: "Dad, can we just shut our yap about dying already?" But neither is it productive to genuflect and burn incense every time it comes up. (Although that's fun, too.)
I get his point: who wants to spend the last good years of one's life, when you're supposed to be getting your affairs in order and resolving issues of identity and purpose, enmeshed in a flamewar with some jackass in Tucumcari named Lem, or drumming your fingers in a tech support phone queue to Microsoft?
But I disagree with him every other way, and I will list them. First, despite a few aching tendons and a pancreas whose odometer has rolled over on him, he is pretty fit at 75. Statistically, his chances of making it to 85 are excellent.
Second, he doesn't understand the very first and most important thing about computers. Far from leaving a valuable, underused asset behind him in the year 2000-whatever, he'll be leaving a pile of junk much more worn-out and obsolete than him. He's got time to turn three PCs into doorstops.
Third, people 65 and over are no longer the fastest growing group of computer users. They used to be. But there are so damn many of them now, using the machines for e-mail, net-surfing, and just general goofing around, that the growth potential has shrunk drastically.
Fourth, big deal if he dies with the computer's potential unrealized - did he or didn't he have fun with it? That should be the only consideration. It's not like the $1,500 a PC costs means he will be buried in a potter's field. All those other old people are having a ball with computers. He might as well join them. Online.
Fifth, and perhaps incidentally, he's living in a computer house whether he wants to or not. I mentally ransacked his property -- he lives in a nice ranch house in the Mojave Desert of California -- and found over fifty microprocessors working on his behalf, from his garage door opener, to the timer on his sprinkler system, to the electronic scorekeeper he keeps in his golf bag. So he's no vestal virgin, computer-puritywise. His logic gates swing open wide and frequently.
Tell the truth, dad - the reason you don't want to spring for a PC is that you don't want to feel like a nitwit learning how to use it. It's hard for people who are clever in one realm to take on a new realm, where your old reputation doesn't mean diddly. Lo, the proud are brought low, and industrial lions like yourself are as lambs unto the mouse.
But there is a way around that problem: get a PC that won't make you crazy. Though I live and languish in the frustrating world of Windows and Plug and Play, there is no reason you have to.
Indeed, unless you have a good friend who can lead you through Windows, and be on hand to answer questions that arise, and mob the accumulating sweat from your brow, I would suggest you buy one of the new iMacs.
They're a bit underpowered, as new Macintosh machines have historically tended to be, and there is some question of their Internetability -- they aren't working well with some ISP modems. And the screen is small, which you can adjust somewhat by setting your system for large text.
But the iMac appears to be a good, simple, reliable machine,ideal for an AOL hookup. And it is wiggy to look upon -- your desert neighbors will be mucho impressed.
And the best thing, if you act now, is that you already have an extra phone line in your house -- the fax line that has gotten so little use since your consulting business wound down. Instead of disconnecting that line, reconnect it, as an Internet line.
Life online is not to be confused with immortality. But it's a lively place to while away the vast expanse of desert time you have on your hands. Make connections you never dreamed you could make, and travel the big wide world in an instant.
We could even be having this conversation there.
America's Best-Loved Technology Writer(TM), Michael Finley has a free gift for visitors to http://mfinley.com.
Michael Finley is co-author with Harvey Robbins of THE NEW WHY TEAMS DON'T WORK.Visit Michael Finley at his home page, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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