by Anne Mayer Bird
I was born in 1933 and am therefore eighty-six years old. My three daughters and step-daughter are all over fifty and two of them are over sixty. When it comes to technology, we live in different universes.
I was brought up in an age when just learning to touch-type on a portable typewriter was considered quite an achievement. Even though we were very middle class and it was unlikely I would end up a secretary, my mother thought it would be a good skill to acquire and sent me off to a class to learn. By the age of twelve I was proficient enough not only to write an entire novel but to type it on my father’s borrowed typewriter during the summer holidays. Years later and with three children under four, I laboriously typed my then husband’s Ph.D. thesis, pages and pages and pages. I can remember almost every word.
Fast forward a good few years and I am living and working in London, at the Royal Court Theatre, when a much younger colleague came to work one day exhausted from having spent the whole night at his friend’s house on something called a computer and something else called the Internet. Very gradually computers entered the workspace, but I never used or owned one until, in 2000, I left the Royal Court and decided to become a freelance arts publicist.
I did learn how to send and receive emails and a very limited use of the Internet and there it stopped. I was by then long married to my second husband, who embraced and adored the Internet life, and who ran all our financial affairs and his own extensive buying and selling on his computer. He adored Facebook and was up for anything new which presented itself. It did not bother him that I refused to progress beyond my very basic knowledge and skills.
He died on 22 December 2019 and less than three months later, still unused to the solitude of being a widow living on her own, I became a lockdown prisoner due to the coronavirus epidemic. My daughters all ganged up to haul me suddenly into the 21st Century, despite the fact they could not be with me in the same room. Suddenly I had to have a smartphone (Apple IPhone 7), be on FaceTime, Facebook, Skype and Zoom.
I am an intelligent woman with my mental powers intact and had been doing a good job of running a still active life (including working part-time) but these new skills elude me. I cannot use the phone (lack of understanding, arthritic fingers) nor any of the other things previously mentioned. My simple Dell PC does not have either sound or vision, ruling out the Netflix to which kind friends signed me up to as well as Zoom. I cannot even discover my wi-fi details. And I forget instantly every password assigned to me.
This terrible lack of expertise also applies to all the companies who supply me with heat, light, insurance, banking and my local council, all of whom want me to go online. No one reads the meters any more or picks up a phone. I am wading through probate but then have to manage all these services for the rest of my life.
My daughters are disgusted and disappointed. I am ashamed but shrink from ‘practising’. I am sure a psychologist could explain that in the face of a cataclysmic upheaval in my life, the last thing I want is to even further divorce myself from daily human contacts to enjoy meals, chats, plays and operas and visit museums and galleries online. I will just have to hunker down and wait for the world to open up again.