New Again


Experiencing Facebook for the first time again, through my 75 year old mother-in-law’s eyes.


Last night, I set up my mother-in-law’s new tablet.

My mother-in-law was born in 1940 and, other than a stint working at Montgomery Ward in the 60s, was a stay-at-home mom for decades. She hasn’t had a smart phone or real internet access before yesterday. Years ago, my brother-in-law set her up with a hand-me-down PC with Windows XP and Juno email, which is an old-school dialup email service that somehow still works. My mother-in-law isn’t encumbered by years of Facebook reactionism, Reddit cynicism, Youtube superficiality, or Twitter narcissism. But she’s also been missing out on a lot of life that now happens online.

Last week, a Verizon rep convinced her and her husband that getting a free 4G Android tablet would save them money on their phone bill in the long run.

I first set up her email on the tablet. I showed her how to launch the app by tapping on it, how to go back to the home screen, how to read and delete emails. I showed her how dragging your finger up and down on the screen would scroll up and down.
I then set up Facebook, and invited her into a secret group for her family that we set up. I showed her how to “like” posts and comments and how to navigate the various screens.

Within minutes she was receiving friend requests from her kids and grandkids. When she “liked” one of my comments, I showed her how the notification immediately showed up on my phone.

Right now, she’s seeing photos of her grandkids in Alaska and chatting in realtime with her son in South Carolina. Her social life just expanded exponentially with a cheap tablet and 500 MB of data.

As a software developer, I am immersed in the nitty-gritty every day. I deal with estimates and deadlines, app performance issues, and misaligned text labels. My daily focus is on the what, not the why.

As my friend and fellow Infinite Red-er Derek Greenberg said,

It’s important that we remember who our audience is, and to understand that sometimes our work has a huge effect on people who are not our typical target audience.

That’s why it was so striking to watch her discover this brand new world. Through her eyes, I experienced the wonder of the technology I use every day as if it were new again.

This article was first published on Medium.com.