Help my elderly mother see the internet without /using/ the internet.
November 15, 2012 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to set up an iPad so my elderly mother (who is intimidated by the internet) can view Facebook, etc with a highly reduced chance of accidentally doing … anything. I'm hoping to find a way to use FB (etc) in read-only mode, but maybe you have other ideas.

My elderly mother is starting to feel cut off from her children and grandchildren because she's too intimidated by the internet to access Facebook, etc. We have a spare iPad that she more-or-less understands how to use (She knows how to launch apps, scroll, zoom, click). She's not technophobic, but she is very slow to learn and doesn't have an intuition for tech. For example she still doesn't know that the triangle on the remote control means "play".

We're thinking it would be great if she could see/read what her family is up to on Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, their blogs, etc in a safe "you can't do anything you'll regret" environment. Sort of a picture frame meets newspaper. Regularly updated with stuff, but all you can do is read it. Ideally only read it so she doesn't have to worry about accidentally touching a link and finding herself in a scary internet cul de sac, doing something that makes her look foolish, or need to bug a family member for technical assistance. Once she's comfortable with reading we'll get her to start contributing, but we don't want to scare her off.

I think I have the other services figured out but Facebook is the highest priority. It's kind of a nightmare of links and no one knows how the interface (which constantly changes) works. I think I'm looking for an app, webapp, Facebook setting, etc that really just shows the activity stream without too many other distractions. Any ideas?
posted by Ookseer to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hook her up with Flipboard and connect her Facebook account. She can view the content and click through to links but there's no way to post to someone's timeline or update her status, if that's what you're afraid of.
posted by thirdletter at 11:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

My grandma is 88 and is doing the facebook thing these days. She does the email thing, too. That is the entirety of her internet world. She has a computer. This is how we handle it:

On her desktop, we have two firefox icons. One is a direct link to gmail and is labelled EMAIL. The other is a direct link to Facebook and is labelled FACEBOOK. When she wants to open facebook, she knows to click the facebook button.

I'm friends with her on facebook, so I can sort of keep an eye on what she's doing. At 88, I figure most of the "can't do anything you'll regret" stuff is pretty moot. She doesn't know how to upload pictures, and her friends aren't posting nekkid shots of her (oh dear god we can only hope), so that's pretty safe.

Because I can look at her profile and see what she's up to, I can check in when I need to. I have her login info, and from time to time (maybe like once every other month, maybe) I'll go in and remove some spammy app she's added or delete embarrassing watched videos from her timeline.

I also make sure she's "liked" all of the pages I think she'd enjoy (like the reunion page for her high school, or the fan page for the town she spent most of her life in) so she can be exposed to more than just the grandkids and few other people she knows on there.

It seems to be working out pretty ok for us so far. And I know she loves being able to "like" and comment on pictures that the grandkids have posted. (Before she figured out how to do that (took quite a few times of us walking her through it), she'd call us every time and say, "hey, that's a pretty cute picture of your dog!" or "glad to see you're having fun with your friends!" I think having the ability to actually interact with us online makes her feel much more connected.
posted by phunniemee at 11:47 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Flipboard, you can set it up with not only FB, but also RSS feeds from other blogs, twitter, tumblr, etc that she'd be interested in keeping up with.

And there's a bunch of good news/entertainment feeds and more, you can easily extend this to her "keep up with the world" interface.

The Flipboard app has a pretty consistent interface across services (FB, twitter, etc) for commenting and liking, and for viewing related media. You should be able to make her a relatively short (a few graphical pages) "manual" about how to navigate the interface.
posted by jpeacock at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a bit of a tangent, but make sure that the ipad you give her has a case or stand that is easy and comfortable for her to grab and hold. Though I'm a little less elderly and not intimidated by most of the internet, I've had a hard time getting comfortable with my new ipad because the thing is so damn difficult and awkward to hold or even pick up. The right case can solve that, but without that the device is pretty useless and much more intimidating than it needs to be. It's pathetically obvious that they they didn't include any middle-aged or old people on the design team.

For things like the triangle meaning Start on the remote: get some colored electrical tape in red and green. Stick a little piece of green on the On button, and a little piece of red on the Off button. I've done this on most of my devices just to make them less annoying to use.
posted by Corvid at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2012

I would put all the stuff she doesn't want to use but that can't be deleted (settings, app store, etc.) in a drawer and put that drawer on a different page so that she doesn't accidentally open something up that she doesn't want to open up.
posted by mskyle at 12:45 PM on November 15, 2012

This is a bit of a tangent, but make sure that the ipad you give her has a case or stand that is easy and comfortable for her to grab and hold.

Yup. I'm in the iPad's target finger-agility age bracket, and that bastard is still fiddly to hold. Cases made for todders are actually really great for making them easier to handle.
posted by phunniemee at 12:53 PM on November 15, 2012

Have you heard about email-to-print options, such as They have machines that can accept emails --- including emailed photos --- from a pre-approved list of addresses only, so there is zero chance of spam. The ONLY thing your mother would have to do is occasionally refill the paper tray with regular copy paper, because you (or whoever you choose) would handle setting up that pre-approved address list, and the machine itself can be set (again, remotely, by you) to check for possible incoming mail at specified times of the day or night --- she would NOT have to turn on anything to check it herself.

This doesn't cover her contacting you, of course, only from you to her. But if everyone in the family sends her little updates, she won't feel left out --- these machines are specifically designed for techno-phobic elders.
posted by easily confused at 1:32 PM on November 15, 2012

IOS 6 has Guided Access, which is a kind of child lock. Instructions found here. Maybe you could adapt that?
posted by tamitang at 6:58 PM on November 15, 2012

Response by poster: Flipboard looks very close to my ideal solution. Nicely walled but access to the content she'll want to see. Reasonably consistent and coherent interface. While she can post to Facebook from it, the interface is much less confusing than FB. We can add the RSS feeds for her local newspaper and even add/curate things remotely if that seems useful.

Thanks for suggesting a case. It's a 1st gen iPad so it's even harder to hold on to than the current models. (Heavier, slicker, curvier.) We'll get a nice chunky case for it.

A note on "doing things she'll regret": I'm not thinking drunken party pictures or even private messages made public, but clicking on something that takes her somewhere she doesn't understand and can't figure out how to get out of. It's pretty common, I've seen her using Word.
posted by Ookseer at 10:27 AM on November 16, 2012

clicking on something that takes her somewhere she doesn't understand that case, may I suggest rebranding the window close X (which obviously wouldn't be there with an iPad) as the "redo" button. Whenever she gets someplace she doesn't understand, all she has to do is click the magic red X and then double click on the facebook icon again. All better!

(That said, I'm going to look into this Flipboard thing...)
posted by phunniemee at 10:54 AM on November 16, 2012

Since it's a 1st gen iPad, see if you can find one of the original Apple cases for that model. I liked it a lot. It wasn't bulky and didn't add weight to the device. It also had a non-slick feel to it, and the cover could be folded a couple of different ways to angle the screen for me. A lot of cases have too many options making them a bit fiddly. That one was very simple yet did a good job of protecting the screen and minimizing the chances of dropping it.
posted by JaneL at 10:13 AM on November 18, 2012

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