About ten years ago, my parents got a computer. Dad was 87 and Mom was 81. They weren’t really early adopters, except maybe among their age group.
The primary reason was my dad’s eyesight–he couldn’t drive safely at night to visit friends and play cards. The computer allowed us to install card-game software. The software created virtual partners for cribbage, pinochle, and euchre, as well as solitaire cards that never got sticky.
A few weeks later, my mother asked if they could get to the internet. We got her an AOL account and bought two copies of a graphic-rich how-to book. (That way, when she had a question, I’d use my copy and say, “Look on page 32. I’ll walk you through the steps…”)
I printed the first email she sent, in May of 2000. It read, in part:
I want to know what URL means. I want to know if my address book has the e-mail addresses in it. And how do I get it?
Those are great, goal-oriented questions. And I had forgotten this from my dad, about a month later, until I found the copy this morning:
Mom made me do it
This is the old fellow trying to compose a little note.
How am I doing?
For quite a while, they had fun with email (mostly receiving, since their typing skills weren’t the greatest). Over time, though, Mom and Dad had difficulties with the mechanics: they’d get attachments they couldn’t open, and their in-basket will fill up because they didn’t quite get the hang of filing.
Then I had an epiphany: I set up what I called the world’s smallest blog (audience: two). Instead of writing letters or email, I started posting to the blog. Instead of searching their in-basket, they’d click on the desktop shortcut I created.
With photos embedded in the posts, they didn’t have to open attachments. The blog would automatically archive by month, and also by broad topic. And my three children (who between them have more than half a dozen blogs) had author access, so they too could plop down at this digital kitchen table for a visit.
I mention this for a number of reasons. First, Sunday was the blog’s fourth anniversary (official readership is down to just my mother). Second, and not entirely by chance, Sunday also marked the blog’s one-thousandth post.
That’s right: for four years, my parents have had virtual guests about five posts a week.
By and large the posts on their blog are astonishingly mundane. I write about a trip into Washington, or making chicken stew provençal, or (much less often) about a consulting project I’m working on.
Oh, and the weather. My dad always wanted to know what our weather was like.
My kids tease me, but they know the real purpose: each post is a brief chat with my mother, often with pictures (she got a lot of pictures of last February’s snowpocalypse), letting her know what’s going on here. They add their own comments, and a fair number of pictures of the great-grandchildren.
Another reason I mention this is that when I came up with the idea, I realized I’d broken through my own preconception of what a blog was. Blogs are for the world at large? Not necessarily. They have your Big Thought of the Day? Ehh, maybe not. They’re all about ever-expanding readership? It’s debatable.
What really happened is that I had a problem to solve–Mom and Dad’s challenges in working with email, and my own spotty record in sitting down to write them some email. And by ignoring what I thought were conventions of the medium, I found a solution.
The only drawback? My brother, who lives with my mother, urges me to post at least four times a week. If I miss two days running, he says, my mother worries that there’s something wrong, either with her computer or with me.
I’m not sure which worries her more.
Screenshot from WordPress is mine; CC-licensed tea photo by adactio / Jeremy Keith.