The Internet Revolution is now complete. My 88 year old grandmother has wi-fi.
I visited her this afternoon for our traditional New Year’s family lunch. I was surprised to find a router sitting beside her recliner, lights ablaze and signaling traffic. This shock was preceded a few weeks earlier by a Facebook friend request from my grandmother. What is going on?
Turns out my uncle activated a DSL connection, installed the router and established the Facebook account. He also bought a used Toshiba tablet so my grandma can Facebook. This is a bit of a head bender. My grandmother is an intelligent woman but I’m not sure if she knows that she internet access. I have never once seen her use a computer of any kind. She distrusts debit cards, does not carry a cell phone and uses only two TV channels — CNN and The Weather Channel. I’m not even certain she knows what the internet is.
But, that doesn’t matter. She now has wireless internet access, whether she realizes it or not, and it will make her life noticeably better in at least two practical ways. My grandmother is losing her hearing. She can still enjoy conversations in rooms without background noise but phone calls are a chore. For two years, she has been using a telephone-to-text relay service that is mediated by a third party listener who listens to the conversation and transcribes on the screen for my grandmother to read. It works okay but accuracy is about 60% and there is some lag. Like I said, phone calls are a chore. The DSL connnection was installed to connect her telephone to an internet-based transcription service which works faster with more accuracy. I am told the transcription is now 80% accurate and much faster. That alone is worth the price of the internet subscription.
Photographs are a big part of my grandmother’s life. She started taking snapshots as a kid and has carried the hobby ever since. Her pictures reveal what is most important in her life – family. I am sure she was tens of thousands of candid family photos, many of which are pressed in albums or are hanging on her living room walls. When she leaves her apartment, they will have to re-sheet rock the entire living room because there are so many nail holes from family pictures. It is a sight to behold.
The wireless connection and tablet allow my uncle to show my grandmother recent pictures from family in west Tennessee, Texas and Kansas through Facebook. Even if she never likes a post or publishes a status update, wireless internet access allows my grandmother to extend the reach of photo collection into virtual space. This is a good way to keep her from feeling quite so far away from the people she loves.
I write a lot about how the Internet shapes my daily life. When thinking about technology, I often succumb to the rhetoric of revolution. Today, it occurred to me that the revolution may be over. The Internet now truly underpins every aspect our quotidian lives. The Internet has become a utility like water and electricity, so ubiquitous in our daily lives we don’t even have to know it is there for it to bring value. The revolution is complete. Everything is different and the tools have disappeared. We can finally take this stuff for granted and expect it to work for us every time without special skill or training. Incredible to realize how boring and commonplace the magic has become. We live in fascinating times, even when we find them completely ordinary.