Monday, August 31, 2009

Digital photos are a gateway drug

Does this story sound familiar? It may have happened to someone you know, or even to you.

Long after Bob and all his friends were Internet-savvy, Bob had given up on his grandmother ever buying a computer, let alone sending texts, signing up on Facebook, or downloading video. She still needed him to come over to reset her VCR and record her answering machine message, after all.

But a few years later, Grandma finally did get a computer and got an Internet account, and what was the very first thing she did with it? Sent out digitized copies of old family photos. Pictures of Bob when he was a baby, or of Bob's father in Little League, or of Bob's grandfather in his Navy uniform, stuff like that.

Eventually, Grandma started sending out emails (mostly mass-forwarded chain mails with vapid platitudes and overstated warnings at first), and may even have signed up on Myspace, played Scrabble with people over the Internet, gotten into chat rooms and forums, and learned how to use the Google.

But it always starts with the digital versions of old pictures. These seem to be the one thing that is most likely to draw a lot of people from a previous generation into the lure of the Internet and the digital age.

Once they're there, they find lots of things that can benefit them; after all, older people often feel isolated but find it hard to make social contacts due to physical factors like having a hard time getting around, and the Internet's a great way for them to keep in touch with peers, people who share their interests, far-flung relatives, old friends, etc. Plus computers can accomodate disabilities like poor sight (with screen readers, bigger fonts, etc.), shaking hands (with voice recognition and the fact that no one gets impatient if it takes you a long time to type an email), etc. In some ways, the stereotypical grandparent living alone might be better able to benefit from things like social networking than are the younger folk who use such things the most.

Perhaps if you have an older relative you'd like to encourage to get online, you should use digital photos as the hook to try to lure them in.

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