AT New Year I decided to upgrade my mother and father. Technologically speaking they are years out of date. Parents'79 runs a pretty antiquated programme. My two lack such basic functions as how to use a mobile phone and what exactly a fax machine is.
But I'm fond of the old pair. So, rather than replace them, I decided to bolt on some 21st century hardware.
For years now communication has been our main problem. My father's way of interfacing with the world is to ring it up for long phone calls about next-door's fence blowing down. These can be a nuisance when I'm working and expensive when I'm abroad, so I bought him a new emailer. For those of you who haven't been down Dixons lately, the emailer is a telephone that sends and receives mail. It has a screen like my PC, but not all the really advanced functions such as fiddling with coloured fonts, scanning photos of other people's bottoms or losing half a day's work when the damn thing crashes.
In theory emailers are wonderful. Whenever I send my father messaes, a little light should come on, he clicks a button near the screen, reads and then presses reply to tell me that next-door's fence has just blown down.
And the pressure is off me because I only read my emails when I'm free.
There is a flaw, however. My father's emailer will only let him write to me. When I send him an email Amserve flashes me a message explaining that the address of the person who has just written to me doesn't exist. Welcome to the mad, mad world of computers.
Our conversations over the past few weeks have been very educative. My dad now knows that scroll, shift and menu have completely different meanings from those he grew up with. He also knows that a chatroom is not a bar you take your wife into and that server is a byword for utter inefficiency. For him this has been a crash course in lifelong learning.
His emailer still doesn't work properly, but we've had some very interesting calls while trying to sort it out. In a way, this machine has brought us closer after all.