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Traveling Home for the Holidays on the Information Not-So-Superhighway
By Beth Lahickey
January 10, 2003

Over the winter break, I visited my relatives on the east coast. Like many people, we keep in touch these days using email and occasionally attaching digital pictures. Sometimes my mom and I use instant messaging and I once even made a little website to share pictures and descriptions of the work my boyfriend and I were doing on our house. My family and I spend more time communicating on the computer than on the phone. These days, the only handwritten letters I receive are from my grandmother.

A few years ago, my brother gave his old computer to my aunt, so she could get online, too. She had resisted getting a computer for many years, saying that it would take up too much of her time. Since she has been online, she has discovered eBay and ICQ and she probably now spends even more time online than she had originally feared.

It doesn't help that she's using a 56K modem dial-up connection. She's still running Windows 95 and she refuses to pay for software, opting instead to download everything for free online. I used it over break, and felt somewhat nostalgic when I heard the modem connecting. It was relaxing to sit and sip eggnog while web sites struggled to appear. It felt like old times.

My younger brother, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. He makes digital movies and slick web sites with his computer using software I've never heard of. He wasn't able to be home for Christmas, but he was very thoughtful and he sent us a CD-ROM containing a special Christmas movie he made.

Now, I enjoy my brother's movies, particularly the ones he makes while he is downhill skiing in Aspen. They are like little adventure films. Very cool. But I cringed when I saw the CD come out of the box he'd sent. I knew that it would be my responsibility to put it in the computer and gather everyone around to watch. I can play them on my computer at home, but on my aunt's computer?!? How could my brother be so cruel? I knew that the next several hours were going to be spent trying to get it to play. And they were.

He called halfway though my endeavor, I think just to taunt me.

"So, how's it going, Sis? Did everybody like my movie?" I could hear him stifling a chuckle.

"Shut up," I muttered.

"Did you try saving it to the hard drive?" he asked.

"Yes and shut up," I muttered again, secretly hoping that the next skiing movie he made was going to be more like the "agony of defeat" clip.

I passed the phone off to my hard-of-hearing 96-year-old great aunt and took a deep breath. I looked at what processes were running on her computer. I was horrified at what I found. She had downloaded just about everything out there and just about all of it was running at once. It was a mess. There were 42 different spyware applications running, over 3000 cookies and more crap than I care to recall right now. After being granted power of attorney over my aunt's PC, I gave it a performance makeover that turned it into the leanest and meanest it could be and I eventually got the movie to play, choppy and without all of the sound, but it played the best it could.

My aunt had been perched at my side for the past hour. "What's Disk Cleanup? What are cookies? Where can I download free anti-virus software?" I explained everything the best I could, and she started taking notes on all of the maintenance suggestions I was making. My mom had joined in at this time, and was asking for a copy of my aunt's notes. Finally, I just told them that I would put together a document for them to refer to that would list all of the things you should do on a regular basis to keep your computer running well.

I am posting a variation of this document here, hoping that it might help you or your loved ones before the next holiday season is upon us. As for my brother, he just sent me a digital picture of himself snowboarding at Snowmass. Great. I'll think of him while I'm doing my readings for LIS 570. "The thrill of victory and the…"

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