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
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.
it going, Sis? Did everybody like my movie?" I could hear him stifling
"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
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