Can you ever remember a time before the internet? I can’t. I can’t even remember a time before mobile phones were a constant buzzing presence in my life, vibrations frequently undulating on my upper thigh (or through my handbag) letting me know that someone, somewhere, had been in contact with me. I can’t imagine life without them.
One person who can, naturally, is my dear old nan, Joyce. Born in 1929, she didn’t grow up with satellite television or Twitter or smart microwave ovens. She had familial bonds that ran through her life like big oak beams. She went out dancing every weekend in frilly dresses with guys dressed in suits and ties, usually with an immaculately parted hairdo. They carried hankies and love letters written by hand. It was a world where people made do with what they had and were happy, and my nan was the happiest. She still is.
What she makes up in sheer joie de vivre and really great cups of tea, she certainly lacks in the technology department. When asked what her email address was in the shop, she’d usually start with her postcode, and she is rarely brave enough to venture outside of her television’s terrestrial channels one through five. In fact, just about the only thing she can muster is the odd text message, written on her screen in what I’d guess was size 25 font.
“HELLO NATALIE, IT IS YOUR NAN. HOW ARE YOU TODAY X NAN XX”
Her shouty words are succinct, and could come off as vaguely passive-aggressively threatening were she not the nicest, sweetest, funniest person you could ever meet. So funny, in fact, so nice, that I decided we needed to get her out there and into 2015. We needed to get my nan into the smartphone game.
“Oh, it’s fancy isn’t it?”
This is what having a phone should be like. We should all be, at all times, bowing down to these technological marvels. If we all “Oh, it’s fancy, isn’t it?”-ed a bit more and “Oh my god, I can’t believe I have to switch my phone off on a plane”-ed a little less, we’d all be far, far happier.
“Did you know that you take pictures with that thing, Nan?” I asked her. She’d been incredibly jealous when her neighbour had shown her pictures of her grandchildren on her smartphone.
“What? Right on here? How long does it take? Do I need to go to Boots?” Nan was not taking this well. She was rattling off questions like she was playing that Guess Who? game.
With great coaxing, she’d managed to take a selfie. You should have seen her face! (Well, you kinda can see her face – it’s literally a picture of her face – but I mean her face after the fact.)
“Oh, Nat. This is so lovely,” she said. It was, by all accounts, a pretty terrible selfie.
Now she’s a selfie queen. I’d try to explain to her that she could capitalise on this selfie success with expert utilisation of hashtags, but I didn’t want to blow her mind.
“I could do this every day, couldn’t I?” she asked. I told her that there are millions of women who use selfies as a source of personal validation and expression, millions of women saying all they need with a cool bit of composition and some ace lip-liner.
“Selfies are important, Nan.”
“I can see why,” she said, a bit distracted. So far, so good.
We had to take things to the next level. And by “next level” I mean “using the map application (mapplication?) on her phone to find her way to her friend Caroline’s house”.
She’d been playing with the phone all morning, her hands hooked around the svelte little handset in a way that reminded me of myself, and she knew how to open the app up. She ventured out of the door and then...she stopped. She didn’t know Caroline’s address. She did know that she lived near a big fast-food restaurant, however, and that it was very loud on Friday afternoons with secondary school foot traffic being at its highest.
“Well, let’s search for that chippie, then,” I said, all blasé.
“No,” she replied. “I know where it is. I don’t need to search for it.”
I hadn’t thought this through. Words like “search” and “selfie” and “soft block” meant nothing to my grandmother. I decided to ease the process and “search” for the chip shop near her friend Caroline’s home on her phone myself, (“Wow! That’s so smart, isn’t it, Nattie?”) and then we were back in business.
“You could take a picture of yourself – maybe of your shoes – and tag it “Going to Caroline’s!” now if you wanted to,” I told her. She looked at me like I’d just asked her to perform open-heart surgery. “Tag”... D’oh.
On our way back from Caroline’s, my nan was – as she’d probably say – feeling full of beans. She’d asked me to “send” her some pictures of myself that she could keep on her handset, feeling confident in her aptitude and newfound grasp of the English language, and had shown them off to full effect to her friend.
“Look at our Nat!” she said, scrolling through the pictures with a slick flick of her fingers. “So proud of her, ain’t I?” I was sitting awkwardly on a sofa listening to this at that point, and felt myself slowly turning a rather bold shade of purple with embarrassment.
“Th-thank you, Nan,” I said in stumbled reply.
Now home again, I decided to get her final thoughts.
“To be honest, I was expecting for it all to go over my head a bit,” she said. “A bit like those computers and stuff. I don’t know how any of that works. But now I’ve had it for a day, I would really like one. Even if I don’t really understand what I’m doing, it’d be fun to learn.”
“Fun to learn” – it filled my heart with pride. I can only hope that in six decades time, with robot servants, flying cars, and toasters that work properly, I’ll have some of Joyce’s eagerness to learn and try new things.
“Do I get to keep this phone, Nat?”
“No, Nan,” I said. “You do not.”
Illustrations by Sam Dunn / © BuzzFeed
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