Explaining the Power of the Internet to My Computer Illiterate Dad

My dad called me on the phone yesterday only it wasn’t my dad. On the other end of the line was a man with a thick accent growing more and more impatient with me as I asked him to repeat himself. The man told me to have my dad pick up the phone at the convenient store where he had forgotten it. But I had trouble ending the conversation on those terms. In fact I began to panic that I would never hear from my dad again. This reaction was partially based on the fact that my dad lives alone, five states away. But mostly the dread I felt came from my dad’s computer illiteracy. The cold, hard, facts are that my dad does not own or know how to use a computer. Carrier Pigeons would have been a more viable option.

Eventually my dad was reunited with his phone through a phone call I made to my brother and a trip to 711. Still it got me thinking about the vastly different lives we lead because of our tech divide.

To provide some context, my dad was born in 1949 when people communicated two ways: on the phone or through the mail. Today, through online dating sites, there are over 20 options solely for communicating romantic interest. As a computer user in 2012, I have daily contact with people through email, instant messaging, Facebook, Skype, Twitter. The list grows longer everyday.

As a printer by trade, my dad’s profession is ancient with its origins dating back to the 1400s.  My job as online community manager has just started to develop in the past decade. I’m connecting with people across the country and around the world regularly. He interacts with the same 7 people every day.

The only way I know if he ‘Likes’ something is if he tells me over a phone call.

He will never read this blog post.

We live in two separate worlds and yet I can understand his anxiety. At last month’s Technori pitch I sat in the Chase auditorium listening to Siri founder, Dag Kittlaus paint a picture of the future that was both amazing and alarming. In his keynote speech he talked about the ability to print slices of pizza (amazing) and the possibility of humans living 500 years (alarming).“I predict that in the next several decades, we will see 20,000 years’ worth of technological advancement,” Kittlaus said.

Unlike my dad, I recognize that falling behind is not an option.

This is what I will tell my dad the next time we talk: Living in Chicago and being the gatekeeper of Zealous Good’s social media I am routinely introduced to new startups. All of them are aimed at making our lives simpler or more meaningful or both. Given the amount of platforms they occupy they have an incredible reach. This means more people are getting helped and the most amount of good is being achieved. Without computers and the Internet, for example, crowdfunding site GiveForward would never be able to help raise funds for father and cancer patient Tony Lombardo and New Moms, Inc. food pantry would not have been filled so quickly.

My dad fears computers and the internet because they seem complex and yet all the examples I’ll give him are of lives made EASIER because of these technologies. I don’t know if he’ll ever understand this in his lifetime. Still, I will continue to share with him the day to day impact Zealous Good and other social good sites have because of the internet.

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