January 19, 2006

Le monde devient plus petit

We decided it was time. Over the holidays, my siblings and I got together and bought my parents a computer. They are both in their seventies, and neither had ever used a computer. They resisted the idea because they don't like it when we spend money on them, but we gave them no choice. We didn’t want them to be the last people in the country to be online.

The learning curve was steep at first ("Click? What does that mean? Drag? What does that mean?"), but I gave them a few lessons and pretty soon, they were both using email and google. Several times, I've had to answer frantic phone calls ("The email program is just gone. I don't know where it went.") and drive to their house to straighten things out, but they both learn quickly, and now they are exchanging emails with friends who have moved to warmer places.

When my father figured out that he could email more than one person at once, he immediately began coming up with ideas of how to use this new technology. "How about if I sent all the grandchildren messages in Morse Code? Wouldn’t that be cool?" Then this week, he set up what he calls the French Roundtable, putting all family members who speak French on the email list and sending them instructions that we would all exchange emails written only in French. The designation speaks French is pretty loose. I'm on the list, for example, because I took two years of French over twenty years ago.

The funniest part of the French roundtable is that my father has never taken a French course – and does not really speak French at all. But he has always wanted to learn French because he thinks it's a beautiful musical language, and he has been trying to teach himself out of some old schoolbooks. He found a bookstore that carries the French newspaper Le Monde and will spend hours trying to read it. My family has always had the firm idea that you can learn anything, anything at all, from books. When my Dad wanted to learn how to sail, he took a book out of the public library, read it through, and then built a sailboat in his basement.

I have to admit that it's been fun to get emails from family members, whom I normally see in person or talk to on the telephone. And they are written in French, of course. Tonight, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when an email chimed in from Shaggy Hair Boy, who was upstairs doing his homework. A response in French came from Blonde Niece, who was at her home, with her golden lab on her feet, doing her homework. Urban Sophisticate Sister, working late in her Manhattan office, sent a message, riffing off something Blonde Niece sent. Since I was talking to my daughter on the telephone, I knew that she was in her dorm room, reading these messages and laughing. Boy in Black paused from working on his English paper to send an answer to the French riddle that his grandfather posed early in the day. Urban Sophisticate came up with the same answer, but posted her message 45 seconds too late. Even a big city reporter can't beat Boy in Black to the punch.

Tonight, when my parents came home from the movie they’d gone to see, my mother called me on the telephone to tell me what she thought about the way the theater had been renovated. In the background, I could hear my father saying with excitement, "There’s been a flurry of activity on the French Roundtable." And even though they resisted the idea of the computer at first, I know that they are thrilled to be connected.

35 comments:

Queen of West Procrastination said...

"There's a flurry of activity on the French Roundtable" is the most pleasant thing I've heard today. Somehow, I think our fathers would get along famously. I'll have to tell him about the French Forum; he'll wish he came up with that idea. (He's trying to keep up with me, as I learn German.)

Manorama said...

Oh, that's so endearing. I love it.

kathy a said...

just wonderful.

Sfrajett said...

Formidable! I love how excited older people can get about the technology that has jaded us. It reminds me what a miracle it is that we can instantaneously send each other messages across vast distances.

Terminaldegree said...

This is wonderful!

I convinced my mom to get a computer about ten years ago so that we could e-mail (I was in grad school and just didn't have lots of phone time available).

She's now a computer pro. I'm so proud of her.

I think the "embrace technology as a senior citizen" thing is a family trait. My great-aunt died at age 91...a few minutes after she'd been sending e-mail. Now there was one hip lady!

Glad your family gets to keep in touch around the virtual round table.

Kathryn said...

That's so lovely, Jo(e)...I really love the way that the members of your family so clearly enjoy belonging to each other (actually, I think I love virtually everything you've ever written about your family) and the thought of all of you emailing away madly en francais is quite splendid. My father was another who was convinced that you could learn anything at all from books...His final goal, as he battled with the cancer that killed him, was to finish reading Proust in French. He managed it,- which surprised no-one except the medics involved.

mc said...

This is fantastic, jo(e). I love the quirky ways the older generation finds to use this technology... My grandparents (she 85, he 90) have been online for several years, but my grandfather still clings to the idea that saving files will clog up his hard drive. So he prints every e-mail he receives, files it in a very meticulously organized set of manila folders and deletes the e-mail. We've given up trying to explain why this is silly -- it works for him, and that's really all that matters!

Deb said...

Delightful. Just delightful.

Connie said...

For as long as I've been lurking at this site (yes, I know I'm late to delurk), I've wished I could be a member of your family. Please send me an application. Bo staffs out of PVC pipe? Small children making bookmarks? And now this, the French Roundtable. Launcelot, c'est moi!

Rev Dr Mom said...

Oh, jo(e), this is great!

When my parents were around 70 they took a class on using a computer at their local community college, and my dad was hooked. He used email to keep up with us and his old friends, and he loved the internet. He used to joke that he owned the world's most expensive game of solitaire, but he really did use his computer a great deal. Unfortunately my mom wouldn't use it after he died. It would be so much easier if we could email her....

And I love that your family embraces the idea that you can learn anything out of a book! The Kid believes that too, and in fact can tell you everything about how a car works even though he's never had any hands on experience.

Thanks for sharing your family with us.

DaniGirl said...

Connie said what I was going to say. Are you taking applications from wanna-be family members? I kinda like my family, though, so we'd be applying en masse. The more the merrier, right?

I'm taking four hours of French lessons a week right now, and have been struggling for most of my adult life to attain linguistic mediocrity, so I have endless admiration for your father right now. Félicitations et bon fait!

Quotidian Grace said...

Great! You remind us that we are never to old to learn something new. I think that the internet can be a wonderful outlet for the elderly. Kudos to you and your siblings for patiently introducing them to it.

ccw said...

A wonderful story! I think I love your dad. What a great way to learn something new and interact with his family.

Phantom Scribbler said...

The French Roundtable? In my family, email is more like the Spanish Inquisition.

Where are we dropping off the applications for adoption?

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Add mine to the pile. And I wanna be part of the French roundtable! I think your dad is right... a friend of mine taught himself Spanish entirely from newspapers, and he's now perfectly fluent. C'est une bonne idee!

Not Scott said...

C'est trop magnifique. J'ai une course de francais en universite quand je suis alle Cincinnati. Et je suis alle en France, je parle francaise beuacoup. Maintenent, je parle (ou j'ecrit) francais en peau. Quand je suis ivre en particulier. Je ne peut pas orthographier.

Je voudrais un papa comme le votre.

C'est un grand historie.

(et merci a Babel Fish)

negativecapability said...

That's just awesome.

Yankee T said...

I have one question: is there a cooler family than yours?

Leslee said...

I don't know any French.... I took Spanish for 5 years in schol, but I don't speak it either. Just fumble around a little bit. I too would like to put in my application into your family. Where do we send them?

I'm thrilled that your family isn't like most American families in that you still spend time together outside the four walls of your own home. I wish I was as close to my cousins!

Beanie Baby said...

That is sweet. Good for you!

This is hard for me to imagine since both of my parents have been using computers since the days of the Vic 20--remember those?

purple_kangaroo said...

I love this post--and your family. We gave my grandparents a computer a while back and they ended up begging us to take it away. It's enough of a stretch for them to use the horrible newfangled telephone answering machine.

Squirrely Jedi said...

jo(e),

I was directed to your site by MindSpinner, and I just thought I'd say hello and that I've enjoyed reading many of your posts.

Your family sounds great. I'm glad your parents are enjoying the experience. I wish I could get some of my relatives to participate in something like that, but I don't think they'd go for it; I think I might be the only one that enjoys studying another language.

halloweenlover said...

C'est une très bonne idée, Jo(e).

J'aime ton famille.

Danny said...

I hope that I'll be as willing to embrace new technological things when I'm older, even when they are thrust upon me....My 90 year-old grandmother got online awhile back, but only because she wanted to know what her 8 children were saying behind her back!

RageyOne said...

That is just wonderful! What a cute story. I love it when people are willing to learn no matter the age. :>)

SpookyRach said...

I, too, am available for adoption. You have the coolest family EVER!

Rana said...

Oh, that sounds so fun. I especially like the description of the multiple-connections thing going on there at the end.

My dad sends me little newsy items and bad jokes; my once-aunt sends me pass-along syrupy jokes; the rest of the people don't do much at all.

A French roundtable would be cool -- if I spoke French! ;)

(How much coolness can one family contain, anyway? Your family often reminds me a lot of my "virtual cousins" -- it'd be so cool to hang out with the lot of you!)

peripateticpolarbear said...

I need to relearn French before this summer. Can my application to join your family be expedited?

Preacher Mom said...

My folks have had a computer for some time, but they resisted going on-line. With a little persuasion (okay, a great big push), we got them on and they haven't looked back. There have been many days when I have thought to myself, "I can't believe I'm instant messaging with my Mom!"

And let me join the throngs who sing praises of your family, and especially your Dad - the King of the French Roundtable. How cool is that?!

bridgett said...

Your dad -- or the rest of the French Roundtable that need a refresher -- might enjoy the on-line (free) language courses offered by the BBC. There's French, Italian, Spanish...not sure what else. I find them easy to use and a useful additive to the reading news approach, since they include audio. Ecoutez et repetez. Bon appetit.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/lj/

Marcia said...

Wow! How wonderful!!!

jo(e) said...

Merci, Bridgett. I am sending my Dad that link right now.

Dr.K said...

Si tu as besoin d'aide avec tes messages en francais, il faut m'ecrire. Je voudrais t'aider.

Julie said...

Great story!

In my family my now-90ish grandmother was the FIRST to get a computer (I think it was a TRS-80, remember those?) and the FIRST to go online.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Tres bien, mon cher ami! I really enjoyed this. Your father sounds so very much like my own father, Amazing!!! LOL! I love your posts!!

I would have liked to have gotten my father on-line.

I miss you! It's sunny here in Detroit. Fewer and fewer of my friends seem to email me or be on-line much. Mary :-)