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Broadband for Grandma

Or – How I Brought My Family Closer Together!

By Xander Rothaus

I am a child of the internet. Since as far back as I can remember the information super highway has been a conduit to all sorts of knowledge, amusement and – more importantly – a means of communication with friends and family. That ability to instantly connect with almost anyone I know through the web has been greatly facilitated by the relatively recent introduction of broadband service. With the high speed connections that broadband provides, I have instant access to email, blogs, and webzines, as well as instant messaging and video chat.
Recently, while talking to my grandmother on the phone, I realized how much a faster connection and some new gear could enhance the lives of both my grandparents who live far away from the rest of the family. Everyone else, including aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings were always connected, so why not my grandparents? To remedy this, I decided to take on the task of updating their digital lives!

Road Trip…to Best Buy!

On my trip down to their home in bucolic Hughesville, PA I stopped by a Best Buy and purchased the things I would need.  First on my list was a better computer microphone with a long neck so my grandmother could sit comfortably and not have to strain to have her voice heard. That cost me $15.00.  Next, I found a decent web cam that mounted on their monitor – a Logitech QuickCam® Communicate STX for around $50.

To go along with their new high speed connection, I decided a wireless router would be the best option for their home. They already had a built-in wireless card in their computer and, with my grandmother's poor eyesight, I figured the fewer wires on the floor the better. Plus, a broadband wireless network would be great for when the rest of the family came to visit, with our hordes of laptops, smart phones, and other wireless gadgets.

The last thing I purchased was a keyboard with large letters printed on each key. Now I was ready to tackle the toughest task of all: convincing my grandparents to shell out the twenty bucks a month for service!

Making the case

After a four hour drive down I-80, I arrived to the smell of homemade pumpkin pie and no service for my blackberry!

Post dinner time, I retrieved my goody bag and explained why it was in their best interest to switch from their current dial-up connection to a faster broadband service: broadband would not take up their only phone line when it was in use; a faster connection would allow them to view web pages and download files without the long lags they had been experiencing. This was of particular interest to my grandmother, because she often had trouble opening family pictures due to their large file size. Getting the idea, my grandfather exclaimed, "A better eBay connection would be nice too! Then I will be more likely to win my auctions!"

I told them how Skype and instant messaging (IM) would keep us in contact no matter where our family members were in the world. I told them how I was able to see my best friend Bryan most days even though he was living in Southern China teaching English! I also showed them that I had already purchased all the necessary equipment for them to become part of this high tech world. All they had to do was fork out the fees for the faster connection. After a third piece of pumpkin pie they agreed to give it a go!

The easy part

After an agonizing couple of days of dial-up email and no blogs or webzines, the cable man finally arrived and effortlessly brought my grandparents out of 1998 and into 2008. While the cable guy finished installing the new modem, I set up the webcam, microphone, keyboard, and installed the programs they would need to communicate effectively: Skype and AOL IM. When everything was ready, I called them into the living room and introduced them to their new communications hub. Within an hour my grandmother was typing away on her new easy-to-read keyboard, while instant messaging with my mom who home in New York.

Though my grandmother though IM was "pretty neat", Skype's internet voice and video service blew her away! After a quick tutorial and a very patient brother back in his college dorm room, my grandparents were soon the masters of video chat. As an added bonus, I installed a digital picture frame that had a wireless card built-in. I linked the frame to a Flickr account that we update weekly with pictures of our family. These cycle through the frames and are a great way for my grandparents to see what my brothers and I are up too.

No looking back

Almost a month later, my grandparents are some of the most prolific digital communicators I know! While at first my grandmother would treat each IM as a letter (Me: Hi Grandma! Her: Dear Alexander, Hello! Love, Gram), within a few weeks she had mastered the basic IM lingo like LOL (laugh out loud), BRB (be right back), and TTYL (talk to you later).

These days she is online 24 hours a day. I can constantly ask her questions and see how she is doing. Plus, my grandfather – always a more face-to-face kind of guy – will video chat with the family at least twice a week. When I asked him what he thought of his new digital connection, he said he loves it but thinks that: "The ISP should warn you that their estimated costs don't factor in the eBay charges!"

Now when we visit there is no fighting over one computer because all of our laptops connect wirelessly to their network. Their lives have been greatly improved and they have even started introducing broadband to their friends around the country so they can keep in better contact with their own families!

While I'm glad they are enjoying their new digital lives, mostly I am just happy that we can now see each other almost every day, despite the 200 miles that separate us.

Xander Rothaus is a writer, computer and gadget enthusiast, avid sailor, and all round techy guy. He recently graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in Political Science and hopes to continue to offer advice and consult on tech products and web services. Xander currently lives in Westchester, NY with his two teenage brothers and three dogs.

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