February 7, 2017
Above: Brent Carter, President of Austin Innovations, and a friend who has the patience of Job and willingly endures my screaming “Write it down!” when giving me instruction on the computer.
THE GEEZER AND THE GEEK
This is the story of two men, one old, the other still young, who set out on a three-year journey together to erase the “generational gap” between them when it came to using computers more effectively.
The old man – that’s me – was not entirely unfamiliar with computers. Who in this day and age can be unless they are determined troglodytes, and many senior citizens are when it comes to computers. Although I had a passing acquaintanceship with computers and could, because I have written all kinds of things all my life, use the computer for two things: word processing and email and then only because word processing is much more efficient and easier to use than a typewriter and email was quick. As for the rest of the applications, they can wait until I really need them.
The young man – that’s Brent – started working with computers when he was ten years old. His father, an electrical engineer who worked for the largest appliance makers in the world, designed circuit boards. He and Brent built Brent’s first computer in their garage, joining a rather elite group of geeks who did the same. By the time he was twenty, Brent had more a decade of experience building, servicing, and explaining computers to a host of friends, colleagues, school chums, and clients. When he decided to create Austin Innovations, I had been retired for thirteen years.
In 2013, my wife Carole decided that I had fallen off enough ladders and worked hard enough on our home in the woods to deserve being closer to hospitals and things to do other than admire the changing of the seasons on our isolated twenty acres. We decided to move to Winston-Salem, NC for reasons anyone who has ever met us already knows.. What’s important here is that we used the Internet to discover the virtues of Winston-Salem.
By the time we set foot in Winston-Salem, Brent was beginning to get calls for help from senior citizens who wanted to know more about how computers worked. This was a change of pace for Brent, who, up until he founded Austin Innovations, had worked mainly with younger folks who were already computer savvy enough to understand whatever Brent told them he was doing to their computer. He quickly learned that Seniors, generally speaking and specifically like me, have at best a tentative relationship with computers and regard them as hostile substitutes for the other means of communication they actually prefer. Many could not even type. Others could no more give up their morning newspaper and coffee for sitting in front of a screen than they could give up the recliner from which they pursued that news. Like me.
Banking by computer, for example, is as alien to me as wine in a plastic glass. I much prefer to get photographs of the grandchildren through the mail so that I could go through them at my leisure and in the company of my better half, sharing comments about their progress and discarding those that don’t do them justice. In fact, we gently informed our youngest daughter that she need not record and transmit every hour of the existence of her first born. Despite my initial distaste for the mechanical challenges of using the computer effectively, I knew I had to learn. My hobby had been for some time writing unpublished novels. It is therapeutic. Writing is in my blood and the only way I ever made much money at it was to write or edit such bombshells as “Structural Change in the Mortgage Banking Industry,” and it’s sequel, “Structural Change in the Electric Utility Industry.” When I retired, I put the serious issues that had kept me in Washington, D.C. for a good part of my career behind me and turned whatever small talent I had to writing novels. More to the point I wanted to control the whole process myself, from writing to publishing, and in particular, promotion. This new thing called ebooks seemed to be the answer. Except I didn’t have the faintest notion about how to go about it because it called for computer skills way above my pay grade.
Enter Brent. Recommended by a mutual friend as someone patient with computer neophytes, I gave him a call and over a bottle of my best Pinot Noir, we designed a program for me that included a website (blog) as well as learning more about formatting and file transferring and all the other things that are, according to Brent, basic to using the computer. It has now been three years. I have written three novels and finishing a fourth. It is now my intent to put all four on my blog for free. Free, because I am never going to get rich writing novels and it’s nice to hear when someone says “I enjoyed your book.” Now Brent and I are trying to find the time to write our own book, using the same title as this post. This next book is intended to reassure Seniors that the computer can improve your life as much as the ice maker in your refrigerator has. It is also intended to provide some get-started instruction as well as some insights into how to expand your knowledge of computers so you, too, can move from geezer to geek.
As Brent said one evening after he had performed another miracle, “It’s easy when you know how.”
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