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Mom playing Words With Friends on her iPod Touch on the front porch

Mom playing Words With Friends on her iPod Touch on the front porch

My Mom played this game with my Sister on a little iPod touch here at the house. When Leah and I arrived here in November of 2009 we introduced more and more technology. Leah taught her to use her cellphone to send text messages. It was a blast to get messages from my Mom with “lol” or “smile” in them. Meanwhile, my Sister has an iPhone and plays the Words With Friends game. It seems like April or so, we installed the free version on an extra iPod Touch my Dad owns. Always a player of games (poker, rummy, Tennis, Scrabble, Yahtzee) she took to it immediately. She also used the “chat” feature to regularly talk to my sister, who lives 4 hours away. It was awesome to see my Mom and Sister pass notes back and forth through this little game. Very quickly we installed the ad-free version for her, and when my Dad bought an iPad with 3G she was able to use it when they traveled. She was so excited to be able to contact my sister in this lightweight, fast way.

Here the nontechnical of you can ignore this paragraph. By “lightweight” I mean simple and plain. A communication medium like a paper letter is very rich, an email likewise can be very rich, even multimedia. A phone call is similarly rich, with emotion. But all of these have time constraints on them that are significant. A letter might take 3 days to get to its destination. A phone call requires both parties to be synced up and in a mindset to talk. An email suffers because email is associated (at this time) with having to sit down to a machine. By being able to communicate with a medium that is fast, simple, and associated with a fun game, my Sister and Mom used the little “chat” feature in a way that enhanced both of their lives significantly. We did not know it at the time, but this communications medium was the one used for some of the final corporeal communications between my Mom and Sister. I’m inspired by this unexpected usage and effect of a simple mobile game. I’ve been a fan of Clay Shirky and danah boyd for a long time, and this simple game exemplifies their messages about how social software changes our lives.

As I write this, again stirred to emotion, I also think about the Gmail and Facebook accounts I set up for her. Leah and I would answer her questions about privacy, about adding photos, about how and why things happen in the Facebook stream. At the time I thought it was just a simple tool I was giving her, but it was a mechanism to reconnect and see what was happening with her family and friends and I’m rather proud that I (gently) pushed her to adopt these things. And I think, I am inspired that a person facing down the barrel of a gun of Stage IV cancer could take to such simple tools so well. I hope my own mind is so nimble and adaptable as I age and, God Forbid, if I become ill.

I’ve always been a moderate and an agnostic about technology. It takes a lot for me to dismiss a technology out of hand. I’m glad I have never dismissed the possibilities of mobile apps and of social software applications such as Facebook. There’s a great deal “there” there. Yes, there’s fart apps and blurry cat photos and whining. But that’s not all there is to it.

That’s all I have. Here I am blogging again. I’m missing a reader though.

seven comments so far...

Thanks for sharing your story, Joe. I’m glad to see you blogging again, too.

You probably already know, but when my brother’s illness turned his body into more of a prison cell than a vessel, he found himself stranded miles from friends and family. He turned to chat apps and social media software and found new contacts and friends like you to share with and confide in. As well, he was able to renew and maintain existing contact with me and others that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Our relationship was rocky for a long time, and was greatly revived via text communications. I think the first time I told my brother I loved him was in a chat program. That sounds kind of awful now that I say it “out loud,” but Jesus, it’s so much better than never saying it at all, isn’t it?

How much poorer would he have been, would I have been, if he couldn’t have stayed in touch on the Internet? I’m so glad that you and Leah could open up that extra dimension for your Mom, especially at such a poignant and useful time. You must be very proud, and you should be.

That’s really great Tom. I wonder if there’s some generalizable statement that can be made about technology and illness. Something about these connections is really empowering somehow. Maybe not a big deal, but when the body starts to fail, these connections, these tools, which can be dismissed as frippery, turn out really useful.

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