The Spark

Yesterday, I taught my dad how to copy and paste. Not Ctrl C, Ctrl V copy paste, but the simple ability to copy a bit of text from somewhere, and transfer it somewhere else, which is something we all take for granted.

We’re currently changing energy providers, and as part of the switchover, my dad was e-mailed a link to a snazzy portal where he can log in and check his new bills from New Energy Provider PLC. The problem started when my dad had to take a reference number from the e-mail sent to him, and transfer it to aforementioned snazzy portal.

Fumble fumble, ruffle ruffle, went the clutter on my desk as my dad searched for a piece of paper and a pen. Considering how messy I can be, this was no small feat. I soon realised what dad was up to, and looked up from my book to see what the tumult was about. When I enquired as to what was going on, he asked me if I had a piece of paper where he could jot something down; something which he had in his e-mail, and which he wanted to put somewhere else.

I sat up, and got my dad to dig out the e-mail with the number he was searching for. Highlight the text you want to move, right click, then left click ‘Copy’. After then getting him to switch tabs (again, no small feat) to his portal login, I instructed him to right click inside the box where he wanted the text moved, then right click, then left click ‘Paste’.

That was when I saw it. Dad sat back, and his eyes widened, as his brain registered what he’d just achieved. “This is wonderful stuff,” he said. That was all he had to say.

My parents are quite a bit older than the parents of most other people my age. They’re not tremendously computer literate, which I think is partly why I developed something of an aptitude for computers and other systems/machines, after I was given a computer at the age of 11. I didn’t have anyone to show me how to use it, so I just had to figure it out myself. Still, ignoring all of that, just to see someone’s face light up like that was very humbling, especially a parent. Whoever you are, chances are your parents kicked considerable amounts of arse to provide you with what you have today. I know mine did.

Even as I write this now, I find it somewhat startling the number of things we take for granted, daily. Things that people weren’t able to do ten, or twenty years ago, or things that weren’t even possible thirty years ago. Things like moving a bit of text from one document on a computer, to another. It’s so easy to get lost in it all, and realise that for some, the world can be an expansive, confusing, and sometimes scary place. Then again, it must be wonderful to have so much yet to discover, and to feel that feeling of doing something you’ve never done before. I feel it less and less as I get older, but for older generations, it must be the other way around, surely?

Simple pleasures.

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Social Media for the Masses

As I tweeted yesterday, it’s a very humbling and satisfying feeling, teaching your Web 2.0 illiterate dad to use Facebook. I’d call it research for #sotonsms, which is very soon to be making waves.

Being born into web culture, I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel, being introduced to this extension of the physical world, that effectively brings it all closer together. There must be a considerable shock factor in discovering that your niece, or nephew, can take a picture of their newborn child on their BlackBerry, and have it delivered to your eyes, half-way around the world, in a matter of seconds. I don’t feel it, sadly. I grew up alongside the Web, and the Web grew up alongside me. Sentimental notions of nostalgia aside, it was quite refreshing to see how social media can be used as an energising force, an untapped resource for some, which holds the key for richer expansion of physical social networks. To most of us, this doesn’t sound like much, but I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about all of those who haven’t the faintest clue what social media is, or what it does. Call them what you like; digital immigrants, massive passives. Those who I’d go as far as to say they are actually fearful of technology, when actually, with some gentle poking in the right direction, they can start to see how social media is worthy of being classed as a new friend. I’d imagine the realisation is like a switch flicking. One minute, Australia seemed ever so far away. Once the vast and mysterious land visited once or twice on holiday. The occasional phone call, or wad of pictures through the letterbox is as far as your knowledge goes, with regards to the day-to-day lives of your family in Oz. All of a sudden, you know what your dearest relation across the pond is eating for dinner, at that very moment. Australia is literally on your doorstep, all of a sudden. For that to happen… Well, I’d say my dad’s lucky his head didn’t explode.

I doubt my dad will ever become a social media maverick, like me or you, say, but I certainly hope that he continues to want to explore this new world, and all its wonderful benefits. Yesterday, I talked my dad through leaving comments on Facebook profiles, and even taught him how to snap a snazzy new profile picture, using our webcam. For anyone in the business of training digital passives in using social media, it can get a bit tedious. Left click this button, scroll down, left click that, highlight that (left click then drag the cursor), right click, click Copy (left click), right click, then left click Paste. Even reading it back, it sounds terribly tedious, but it’s something that a lot of us take for granted. We don’t even think about how computers work; we just use them, whereas for some, it must be like learning to see again. It’s a monumental task, but I’m sure there’s hope for my dad.

There was a point yesterday when my dad discovered the baby pictures of the sister of an ex co-worker of his, who has since moved to Poland. They were quite close. The minute those pictures hit the screen, my dad began cooing. His face lit up, and for a moment, I became infinitely more interested in watching his reactions, than watching what was on screen. It almost brought a tear to my eye.

There’s certainly something humbling about teaching the Web to the man who brought you up, and taught you the ways of the world. In some ways, I’m sort of returning the favour, by helping him find his feet in the digital world. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway.