Our mother did not want to get a mobile phone or a computer.

She would always tell us, “I survived without these things to this time and I will be just fine without them!” With mom being over 90 years old now, this has been a running discussion with her for many decades. She has refused to try any of these new devices.

It’s not like her four sons were technophobes and would not be able to give her a simple setup and some working instructions with appropriate reinforcement. We have seven science related degrees between us and all of us have multiple computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones and the like which we use for work and otherwise.

Indeed, we have been encouraging mom to try one of these devices for the sake of better communications etc. for some time. All of us live in different cites and some great distances away. To talk to our mom we have to use POTS – the Plain Old Telephone System! It has worked well enough for all of us to this time.

Mom has been blessed with all of her faculties throughout all these years. After father’s passing, her friends have driven her to church, shopping and otherwise. She has a bus stop outside of her door, and can get downtown quickly enough for whatever other errands she needs to run, yes she still can run!

Everything was going well until recently.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed things a bit for her. Now she is self-isolating, and that for her is just that. She is alone. Fortunately, she is a happy-go-lucky, cheerful person and has hobbies or projects to occupy herself. Her friends and neighbours bring her groceries, she attends church services on her TV, and she continues to talk to her family and friends on the phone, perhaps a bit more now.

Mom, self-isolating! What, we worry?

Finally one of her sons managed to break the technological impasse with her, and Mom now has FaceTime! She only knows how to use one app on her tablet and it leaches WiFi from a neighbour. So when we want to talk to her now, we call her on the phone and then ask her to turn on FaceTime. This works just fine. Her spirits are up and she smiles through all of this new challenge.

I observed how the elderly were using the internet a few years ago at a MaMaWi centre on McGregor Ave, in Winnipeg. Our MMW Computer Volunteers serviced about eight computers at this site, dropping by on Saturday mornings to tidy things up and swap out any failed assets.

The elders were allowed on these computers at discrete times, and the kids afterwards. The elders would tell us that they were using Facebook to message and post to their families across our great nation.

They did not have phones with cheap long-distance plans, so this is how they maintained contact and conversation with their distant families. These elders had all the capabilities to find and access the necessary applications on these computers to support their conversations with their families. But in today’s self-isolating conditions, access to these assets is not possible as the community centres are not open to the pubic. This now isolates the elders, unless they have secured some access since that earlier time, to a mobile phone or some other device.

Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre (often also called MaMaWi) has several locations in Winnipeg’s Core Area and North End which provide a variety of services to the community, including access to computers.

The Digital Divide sometimes affects the elderly and other times does not. My mother was able to accomplish her communication requirements without a tablet and WiFi until recently. She had no perceived loss of opportunity by not using these types of devices. The simplest form worked for her.

Other senior citizens were able to access community resources to communicate with their dispersed families and now may be quite isolated. These are two cases with different start points that during an upheaval event, create opposite digital divide results. One senior crosses the digital divide, the other is left isolated by it.

While FaceTime was the technology which mom was provided with, the rest of us had to figure out where we would find an Apple device to communicate with her. Most of us are Microsoft users but FaceTime (an Apple technology) does not have any capability to be deployed or paralleled on Microsoft or Android (i.e. cell phone) devices. Sometimes the technology providers are creating the barriers to communications and are part of the Digital Divide problem. If my Window 10 laptop cannot communicate with FaceTime then I cannot talk to mom! Its time for these technology providers to provide transparent technologies, in this case allowing video and voice applications to present on the other manufacturer’s devices!

Apple and Microsoft just can’t get along!

Photo: www.pcmag.com