My grandma was having an affair with the mailman! He wore yellow, looked as if he was running and always in the same direction. Whenever he left mail, the mailbox flag would be raised.
It was 1997 and the pressure was on to get email. I couldn’t freakin believe it: my own 80 year old grandmother had email before me!
She coined herself the cyber-granny and her AOL username, BLARO, was the first initial of her last name followed by her Christian name spelled backwards. Her name was Oral and originally she used that as her screen name. You should have seen the family trying to convince her that she couldn’t very well put “Oral” out into cyber-space. And this was before it was known that perverts were stalking users. She tried our patience in those days. We kept saying, “Common sense, Grandma, common sense! Isn’t that what you have always preached to us?”
Cyber-granny looked at us and laughed heartily. She was five feet nothing and just as wide as she was tall. Who, she stated, was going to make sexual innuendos at a lady with her girth?
“Grandma, they don’t see you; they see your screen name and what you describe on your profile page.” (This was before photos were everywhere online.) At that time, users selected a photo from their physical photo albums. Photo in hand the search would begin for a friend with a scanner so a file could be made. Creating a file was beyond the skill level of most email consumers. Many users still did not even use digital cameras. Hence, not many e mailers out there had pictures on-line! Everything was open to the imagination. (I did know one girl back then who found a photo of an unbecoming man. She figured out how to place that photo of him on her email profile when she needed to discourage a too ardent pursuer). There were many frauds back in those days, but I digress.
Naiveté was rampant among email users. It was a whole new world; especially for one little old lady who hated to get out and drive. Email was just her ticket to an easily accessible social life.
Back to the profile page. Do you remember those? Grandma had AOL as her internet service provider. When a user signed up for an account, they could tell a little bit about themselves on a profile tab. Items such as marital status, hobbies, age, and quotes were commonplace. It wasn’t abnormal to see quotes about world peace, or “whirled peas” as the old circulated joke used to go, “I love my family”, or “looking for a relationship.”
But not for Oral: she had to write quotes such as “I want to donate my body to science” and “sex is overrated”. “If God meant breasts to be used for sex, then why did He make hot pepper for my nipples?” “If I were born in the 60’s I’d smoke marijuana and join a nudist colony.”
Grandma’s interests were; “Studying the human body, science, reading, and meeting people.” And far be it from Grandma to tell her age: that field was left blank!
AOL had all kinds of cool features. An AOL user could type in certain key words to find out who was online at that particular moment. AOL would match the description they typed with keywords in user profiles. In Grandma’s case, if someone typed in “sex” AND “oral”, well, needless to say her inbox would fill up.
Now this did annoy her and conversely, the thought of returning so many emails was daunting to her, not to mention how disgusted she was by the sexual content.
She had bursitis and it hurt to hold her arm up for too long. Typing was a chore. Finally this convinced Grandma to change her screen name to BLARO: fewer emails, and less trashy talk.
Still not deterred, Grandma thought she should have instant messenger running, too. Instant messenger was the best way to get pinged by other users online at the same time you were on email. If your profile interested them, a simple message typed by that party would pop up in a separate window over your email.
Rapidly, conversations between strangers could emerge. Grandma decided these strangers were becoming too disgusting! She hated sex and it seemed sex remained the topic of the day.
Our next lesson for Grandma was to teach her how to “toss” someone. In AOL world if a user was harassing you, they could be reported to AOL so the spammer could be blocked from your email. It was called “tossing”. Sometimes users did not appreciate being “tossed” and they would come skulking back once the prerequisite amount of time had passed and AOL returned their online privileges.
Grandma would receive such dire warnings as “I see you” and “watch your back.” She decided it was time to be proactive. She would no longer instant message with strangers, but only with family.
Since she wanted her conversations with us to remain uninterrupted she learned how to invite us to a chat room. Her quotes eliminated words such as sex, oral, nude, and marijuana. The chat room was given a name and by unanimous vote Grandma wasn’t allowed to name it.
Grandma was getting savvy, but her bursitis was getting worse. She had heard from the occupational therapist that there was a thing called voice recognition for computers. If she could get the computer to type for her, then she could be on the computer even longer. Polite society dictated that if mail was received, it should be answered, and in Grandma’s world that bled over into internet mail. By then her love of all things cyber had spread to the remainder of her family and younger friends. We were all on AOL email now and we faithfully emailed her.
Once we struggled our way through the early versions of voice activated software, Grandma found her eyes were failing her. She was unable to stare at her screen for hours on end. Grandma’s 13” monitor clearly was not large enough for her aging eyes. It seemed Grandma’s needs were mounting as rapidly as the cyber world changed.
Our family sent emails out to each other asking everyone to pitch in, and we surprised Grandma with a large monitor. Her days were set! She could peruse her computer for longer periods of time, much to my grandfather’s chagrin. (His hobby was collecting newspapers, clipping out articles of interest, and pasting them into notebooks: He managed to fill an entire room with notebooks by the time he died). To keep him out of Grandma’s hair, we all mailed him newspapers and magazines from across the country. To Grandpa’s way of thinking, that computer crap that his wife engaged in was just plain ludicrous!
I like to think my grandmother was one of the pioneers. Our aging citizens have been given many more opportunities to exercise their minds and interact with all manner of people. I know in cyber-granny’s case, she looked forward to opening her computer each and every morning.
Grandma only got to use the computer for 4 short years before she passed. One of the last things she heard in her little apartment on the day of her stroke was, “You’ve got Mail”!