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Could I go back to pre-Internet days?

November 1, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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I arrived here with just the clothes on my back. Two days later, a former caregiver brought me some personal care items and clothing. Her visit was short and uncomfortable. I was in a quandary about my new living situation and I did not know quite what to think.

In my first few weeks here, I followed the staff around and told them about my life and what my home had been like. Six weeks later, a nurse and her husband volunteered to take me back home to get some things. They insisted on bringing my computer along. I could have cared less about the computer because it needed special adaptations for me to be able to use it. I thought it was useless and would only be in my way.

I brought my portable word processing typewriter. I knew that I could type continuously, as long as my ink cartridge and tractor-feed paper held out. I wrote to my friends and former colleagues from work. But when I got a phone, I heard little from anyone.

Vocational rehabilitation helped me that fall. A rehabilitation engineer brought a mini-keyboard and touch pad that I could use easily. She had me play card games to build my strength and dexterity. I played games day after day feeling I was improving my brain as much as my body.

My previous computer training had taught me DOS programs, the preference of my trainer. But the rehab engineer wanted me to learn how to use Windows 3.11. I read the entire manual so I could use the program. Now that I had special devices set up just for me, using the computer was not nearly as taxing.

The following spring the aides told me I could access the Internet locally for approximately $20 a month and have long-distance charges. I signed up quickly. An aide's husband installed the Internet Service Provider's setup program and said the rest was up to me.

I sat at the computer, clicked search, and never looked back. I knew I could not damage the computer. So I surfed the Internet and opened a window on the world for me.

Television paled in comparison to what I could do on the Internet. I was not the victim of a network or cable programmer. I could go wherever I wanted. I could read the New York Times as well as other newspapers and magazines online. Yahoo became my favorite site and where I started each day. I loved knowing the news and weather before anyone else. Current events had always been important to me. Disability no longer allowed me to read a broadside newspaper-but online, there were no boundaries.

Presently, we have no computer available for resident use here, which I hope will change soon. One computer would be great to start but a computer lab or café would be better. That way more residents could use the computer at the same time and could also learn from each other. Some residents feel that they would be inclined to spend too much time on the computer, especially playing games. But I think being busy and involved is much better than being idle. Also, controls could be instituted on computer use. There is no doubt that the baby boomers depend on their computers and will want them at the facility. Between the baby boomers' PCs and cell phones, WiFi will definitely be necessary.

My PC is a great asset because I can run it by myself and I can switch from tasks. I can communicate with others quickly. I told my sister that I like staying in touch via “the handwriting on the wall”-my biblical reference to e-mail. I know my PC makes me feel less alone and it also allows me to do useful work that benefits others, including me.

I suppose I could go back. Audio books, TV news, music, and writing would still fill my life. But I would definitely miss my online concerts at as well as my research and escapes. Without the Internet my world would definitely be much smaller.

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Southeastern Ohio for the past 13 years.

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Long-Term Living 2009 November;58(11):48