My parents are well into their sixties and make do with technology by asking my brother (a total techie) and myself (more technologically inept than my parents) to help them set up Wi-Fi, show them pictures on Facebook, and so on. While my 84-year-old great-uncle marvels at his Uber application and the paradigm shift in economy that such apps are causing, my parents still struggle to sign into Gmail. It’s frustrating at times but mostly endearing.
I come from a tight-knit family so years of hopping around countries makes long distance communication paramount. We have been through the old years of international calling and call-cards but somehow Skype has remained elusive. I tried to encourage my parents to set up Skype for themselves with the help of their colleagues. To this date, my parents have four Skype accounts and don’t remember passwords for any of them. When I moved overseas for my masters recently, I gave them strict instructions one day to wait until I had created an account for them so I could link it to my own email and manage the account for them.
Of course, the very next day I got a call from [censored]desilva14, my mother’s new account, impatiently created and linked to yet another email address lost to the ether. She sounded super excited. ‘Nanga! I got a new phone and now I can Skype you from the phone without fiddling with the computer all the time!’. Less than 24 hours since I told her to stay put until I created an account and Ammi suddenly had a new phone, a new account, and a new lease on life with her daughter. On the Skype call, this was my view of her:
I had a long conversation with my mother’s feet until finally my housemate got home and switched cameras for her. Skype with Ammi has been more or less smooth since then as Ammi fiddles around regularly with her phone and becomes accustomed to it. Thathi on the other hand…
Once I called them via landline because Skype was so frustrating. I got through to my mum by placing a regular call and asked her to get my dad’s phone so I could talk her through connecting it to mobile data and Skyping from it. Ammi responded, ‘Thathi has the phone.’ So I told her to get it from him. ‘No putha, thathi has the phone.’ I know, Ma! Just get the phone from him so I can talk you through connecti- ‘Putha. Thathi has the phone.’ Oh shit. Right.
Thathi is an engineer, a handyman, a general whizz at life, and an absolute man-man. No way was he ever going to let Ammi fix a technology-related issue for him. I told ammi to give thathi the phone and he said jovially, ‘Putha! The phone’s internet doesn’t work. I’ll get someone at work to fix it for me. It’s been acting up for some time, no?’ The mobile data had been switched off to avoid additional charges during thathi’s overseas travels. I just needed to talk one of them, preferably Ammi, through turning it on again. Of course, male ego stood in my way and I relented. Three months later, Thathi still only Skypes with me when in a WiFi zone.
So the battle with Skype continues. I’ve spoken now several times to my mother’s ear canal, since she’s hard of hearing and instinctively moves the phone closer to her ear. I’ve spoken mostly to my dad’s face as he procrastinates at work and talks to me instead. My brother and I on the other hand, we’ve got a good dynamic going on. Much like the previous years we have both spent living away from each other, we punctuate our separations with long, frequent, in-depth conversations when we physically meet. We know uncomfortable details about each other’s lives, minds and hearts. When overseas, he sends me passive aggressive jokes about the superiority of techies compared to liberal arts scholars. Or the objective inferiority of lib arts scholars. Or just my inferiority. On an unrelated note, I mostly send him frantic messages about how my computer hates me, Microsoft is screwing me over again, or what do I do when Java is broken.