I still remember the day I received one of the most astonishing email message ever.
What was so special about this message? It was from my mother. You see, until that moment, I never thought I’d live to see the day that my mother would send me an email message.
Now don’t get me wrong, my mother is one sharp lady; it’s just that she abhors computers and most of the trappings of the digital world. She even hates just looking at computer screens – “How can you stare at that THING without getting a headache?” – and she still does all her correspondence by writing longhand on engraved stationary.
But I also saw how frustrated my mother would get trying to stay in touch with my father when he traveled overseas on business, where phone and fax communication is spotty at best. She would literally spend hours trying to get through to my father’s hotel to send him a fax. Between the three of us, we did come up with a primitive workaround; if my father had access to email, he’d send messages for my mother to me via email, and I’d relay them to her via fax.
Convinced there had to be a better way, I began to investigate how I could allow my mother to send and receive email from my dad without having to use a computer. Using the Internet to do my research (of course), I uncovered a whole sub-strata of consumer products known as ’email appliances’ that are designed to bring the power and convenience of email to people (like my mother) who will never use, let alone own, a full-blown personal computer.
Soon after, my mother got an early birthday present from me, the Landel MailBug, a small, keyboard-sized device that does one thing and one thing only: send and receive email. Before giving the MailBug to my mother, I spent a week putting it through its paces, and let me tell you that whoever designed this device had a vision (or a technophobic parent). If there was a Nobel prize for making complicated technology simple, then the inventor of this gadget gets my heartfelt nomination.
Still, I was only the ‘Beta tester’. The true test would be to see if my mother would use the darn thing. And, of course, I was nervous about the whole scheme … I knew how much my mother hates electronic gadgets; she won’t go near an ATM and the thought of owning a mobile phone is her worst nightmare. But three cheers for my mother; after festooning her new MailBug with colour-coded stickers – “I don’t read manuals,” she boasted – she was happily ping-ponging email back and forth with my dad (in Southeast Asia) several times a day. There were a few hiccups I hadn’t expected. While I knew my mother could type, she had never typed on a computer keyboard, so a few things most of us take for granted were alien to her, such as the cursor keys. Of course, typewriters don’t have cursors!
My mother still doesn’t understand what her “Internet strategist” son does for a living, but at least she can send me an email message whenever she wants. And I, for one, salute her for embracing a new form of communication.
(FYI, if you’re curious about the MailBug, you can find out more about it at www.mailbug.com. While it’s not sold in Canadian stores, you can purchase it from Amazon.com and use it anywhere in Canada and the United States.)