We’ve come a long way from the audio cassette

Posted: July 16, 2011 in Tech Talk, XX

The first technological revolution in our household was about 21 years ago. It was a recording of you saying “Ba-Ba” like a sheep. Your mom sent it to us on an audio cassette. We played it over and over. –Our 80-year-old grandfather, JG, upon receiving an iPad2.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this post¬†about a sixty-year-old San Francisco man’s first encounter with a computer. We know an eighty-year-old Bangalore man with an iPad2. Appreciate the irony. Even before the iPad, JG was a pretty technologically savvy guy. He has a computer. He can send email. He can use a search engine. But the thing about his computer use is that it is a premeditated affair. He turns on his computer about once a week, reads his email, responds, then closes everything. Quits applications, shuts down the machine, unplugs the machine.¬†

This is not an iPhone

JG also has a smartphone, the e3300+, which, as you might guess, is an iPhone knockoff. He has a simpler mobile device to make phone calls, so this brick basically serves as an mp3 player. He paid some guy in Bangalore 5 rupees per song to transfer about 100 of songs from his CDs (not audio cassettes, at least) to his phone. It was when he asked me to teach him how to use the camera on this thing that I put my foot down. I can’t wait until your birthday. We’re giving you your present now.¬†

JG was shocked. This is for ME?¬†Just the week before, he had told my mom that iPads are now the status symbol in India. Okay, I’ll bring my notebook and you guys have to teach me how to use it. I told him there wasn’t much to teach. All along, my intention was to test the limits of the iPad. How intuitive is it, really? K and I didn’t want to give him too much direction.

Well, we cheated a little. We did a lot of the initial legwork. Things like setting up an Apple ID (nope, not everyone in this world has iTunes), setting up his email (a Hotmail account…), synching his contacts, downloading a couple (mostly news) apps, and of course, many many iBooks. JG got his¬†undergraduate¬†degree in English, so not¬†surprisingly, he’s a literature snob. This worked out pretty well for us considering all his favorites, as in, the “classics,”¬†are available for free. JG received a pretty pimped out iPad, to say the least.

iPad: Piece of cake?

We all know the saying. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink (by the way, in case you’ve ever wondered, this is true of dogs too). We showed him how to open an app. It was iBooks. He chose a book. Sherlock Holmes’¬†Hound of the Baskervilles. The book flipped open.¬†Okay, turn the page, I instructed. You didn’t show me how to do that, he responded. Well what would you do with a real book? I asked, while realizing that this is what my life would have been like if I had chosen the teaching route. My grandpa touched the page and dragged his finger to the left. The page turned. He smiled. Okay. That’s enough for today. We’ll do more tomorrow. I was a little disappointed, but still considered this a good start. How do I shut it down? He asked. Just close the cover¬†I responded. That’s it? Won’t this waste battery? He said dubiously. Not enough to matter.¬†

A couple of hours later, JG was giving us a discourse on anabolic steroids. The topic is hot right now in India because of some sports scandal, so he had run over to the library to borrow a book about steroids. I realized I don’t know very much about anabolic steroids¬†he explained. By the time the next scandal comes around, my hope is that JG will be researching the¬†minutiae¬†on his iPad.

Halfway through his explanation, my grandmother walked in the room. She had just taken a new medication. My grandfather stopped talking. Okay, I just need to call the doctor to ask about potential side effects. We jumped at the opportunity to throw the iPad in front of him. You can look it up on this faster. He opened Safari. How do I make the font bigger? He asked. Making text bigger is literally his favorite thing to do on a computer. To be fair, it makes things really easy on his eyes. We showed him once. He was astonished. It was love at first sight with the pinch and zoom. He tries it on every screen, in every app. Anyway, in a matter of moments, he had determined the side effects, and was reading them aloud to my grandmother from the iPad. This is when I knew for sure that it had won him over.

A couple of days later, he asked me if he could get all his music onto the device from his CDs. Another positive sign. Not only did he realize the capabilities of the device, he wanted to personalize it. Get his music on it.

For the rest of the week, outside of our official twenty-minute “lessons,” any time I would read an interesting article on my iPad, I’d hand it to him under the pretense of the must-read article. I’m sure he knew what I was doing. I mean, the guy wasn’t born yesterday. But he went with it, which is one of the many reasons I love him.

I wish I could say that my grandfather is completely addicted to his iPad. But you know, though he isn’t, he is definitely hooked. He’s hooked because he has seen the potential (I’m sure four grandchildren sitting in his living room on their respective iPads for an entire week had something to do with it). He’s hooked because he’s seen how in the tiniest of ways, it’s going to make a big difference in his life.

So, what did we learn from JG? (This might look familiar, but hey, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery)

  • See it to believe it.¬†The “Wow” moments were really when the device was providing actual value, rather than when JG was learning about what it could do in some hypothetical situation. In the case of my grandmother’s medication, for example, he considered calling the doctor because immediate side effects would not wait for him to switch on the power, turn on his computer, log in, open a browser, go to Google, and type in a search query. With its instant-on, the iPad had instantly proven itself.
  • Go bite-sized. It’s really small things with the iPad — pinch & zoom, page turns, form factor — that make the device what it is. Whenever we would delve into an individual app, things would get complicated and convoluted. We would start straying away from the iPad and getting lost in the intricacies of the app. This is when I could feel JG’s attention waning. Discovering and exploring a sexy app is just not a part of step 0. He can explore these later at his leisure. That’s how his attachment to the device will grow stronger.
  • Tough love. There were several times that it would have been easier for us to just tell JG how to do something. For example, with the page-turning. But that moment when he figured it out for himself made it that much more meaningful. And empowering. It gave him the sense and confidence that he could use this thing even when we aren’t sitting right next to him.
  • So what if it’s an iPad? When I bought my iPad last year, I didn’t need it. It was more the social pressure and the hype around it. I mean, how could I say I loved Apple products if I didn’t even own their latest and greatest?¬†I loved my iPad before it had even done anything. Kind of like a parent with a newborn baby. Or a dog and its owner. Unconditional love. Good old cognitive dissonance. JG is older and much wiser. He’s not about frivolous purchases. “Want” wasn’t going to cut it and demonstrating utility from the first moment was of utmost importance. Honestly, he would have asked us to return it or take it back if he didn’t think he needed it.
  • A modern finch.¬†The truth is, I don’t think we could have proven this “need” for an iPad to JG back in April 2010. Back when analysts were already writing eulogies. I doubt even Apple saw where the iPad would be now. It’s been a pretty cool thing to witness. iPad is no longer just some elite, fancy device for people with money, and it will continue to evolve with our culture.

I’m back home now but I am confident JG will continue plowing along with his iPad. And luckily, I can easily check in on him whenever I want…now that we’re Facebook friends.

-Ro

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