Mom's first iPad: An unexpected reception

For years, I've been trying to get my mother online. Rather than give up, I bought her an iPad.

She's never even used a typewriter and has always been reluctant to try using anything with a keyboard. Nothing I'd tried worked to entice her to computing -- from installing Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing on Dad's iMac to equipping it with voice control.

So I went ahead and splurged on an iPad in yet another attempt to draw her into the wonders of the Interwebs. As I detailed in my last blog post, I spent a week learning how to use it myself. I was finally ready to give it to her on a recent Saturday, after configuring it in a way that I hoped would make it more accessible to her.

My dad was my last stop before I gave Mom the tablet. I wanted him to be prepared for Mom's new toy, especially since he'd likely be relied upon for on-site support as the only technically savvy person in the household. I also wanted to draw a line: "I bought Mom an iPad," I explained to him, "and it's supposed to be her iPad, not yours." I didn't want the iPad becoming another of Dad's devices that Mom would worry about breaking. He agreed but cautioned, "I think that's a great idea — but don't be surprised if you encounter some ... hesitation."

Given historical precedent, I steeled myself for another rejection. As much for my own dignity as hers, I took Mom aside and presented the iPad in private. I figured that would be a better environment than, say, a busy Mother's Day gathering, where the iPad could be forgotten among many other gifts, or others' expectations might make her feel pressured to appreciate the iPad.

ipad by aranmanoth, on Flickr

Photo by Flickr user aranmanoth,

used under Creative Commons.I unveiled her gift, put it in her hands, and left it there. For the next half-hour, I made sure she was the pilot, restricting myself to talking her through such simple things as turning it on and touching icons to run apps. An early hiccup occurred when she tried to touch the screen with her fingertip, and her manicured nails kept getting in the way! She'd have to learn to use the pad of her finger instead. So much for an intuitive interface.

Nonetheless, the iPad earned an unexpected response: "This is so cool!" I'd also not considered the prestige factor that my mom would derive from having an iPad of her own; instead of an abstract skill, she'd acquired something popular and concrete that she could show off, commenting, "Wait until my sister hears that I have an iPad!"

The three apps I'd installed in her Dock proved to be the right ones for an introductory experience. Mom loved looking at old family photos, giggling with delight as she pinched the screen to zoom in and out. The Draw Free app was also fun. I pulled up a blank canvas and mysteriously told her, "Touch the screen." She did and left a mark. Curious, she touched the screen again — then, figuring out what was happening, she started fingerpainting a smiley face. At this point, I made an exception: I snatched the iPad back and, before she could ask me what I was doing, I emailed a copy of her drawing to myself. I'd later print and hang it on my fridge, then take a digital photo of my fridge that I'd email to her, showing how proud of her I was.

Speaking of email, that app held the biggest surprise for both of us. I'd previously sent a video to her inbox and also had a relative or two send "Welcome to the Internet!" greetings, so that Mom would have something to read the first time she checked her email. During the instruction, she often commented, "You're showing me a lot today — I don't know how I'm going to remember it all!" Taking the hint, I purposely did not show her how to use the on-screen keyboard or how to send email, so as to not overwhelm her. I figured that would come in time.

I was right — but I seriously underestimated how much time it would take. Twenty-four hours later, she'd played with the iPad so persistently that she'd figured out its more advanced features for herself, as I discovered when I received a very unexpected email:

Thank you very much for the wonderful surprise! I am very happy to be the proud owner of my own personal iPad!!! ... Dad did not write this email. I did and I am very proud of myself! It took me a few minutes to do it but with time and practice I will get much better.

I never thought I'd live to see the day.

Given the commitment Mom's already shown, I'm hoping the iPad will not be just a fad. I'll report back in a few weeks after she's had more time to acclimate to it.

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