Get my Grandpa online!
December 8, 2007 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Email machine for my Grandpa? Recently, several of my Grandfather's closest family members have moved away from him. We still communicate a lot on the phone, but I'd love him to be able to email us.

Grandpa is a luddite. I say this with a great deal of love and affection. He has a cell phone and is able to dial out on it, when it is charged, which is infrequent, but is not able to retrieve voice mail or answer the phone, even after a number of tutorials from various family members. He's not embarrassed or ashamed of this, he actually thinks its funny and will cackle with glee when the phone rings and he is unable to answer it (I've seen him do this, I swear).

Same thing with computers. He has a lot of stories he's written down over the years, and while he can touch-type on the keyboard, when it comes to saving the document or retrieving it later, he needs help (and cannot learn). Written instructions, even very basic, colorful, large "Click FILE in the top left of the screen. Click on SAVE and press the OK button" type instructions don't work for him.

Right now, he doesn't get access to all of the fun that goes on via email- and he misses out. One of my aunts often prints out the emails for him, but he gets them late and wishes he could be part of the conversation. Sometimes he calls me and dictates emails to the family, or to the editor at the Times, or wherever.

Is there an email only machine I could get him that wouldn't require him to do anything but press a button to make it turn on and the email load? This needs to be the simplest machine ever, no icon clicking or mousing around. I'm fairly certain we could teach him to use the email interface that just involves pressing the "respond" "send" or "new email" buttons especially with the promise of seeming more stewie and stewiefamily pictures.

posted by stewiethegreat to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this?
posted by veggieboy at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2007

Sorry, I meant to link to the Presto itself. In any case, it's only half the battle because it's a receiving-only deal. (Of course, once you add the ability to send, it gets more complicated -- relatively speaking.)
posted by veggieboy at 5:02 PM on December 8, 2007

Previously and previously. The comments in those threads may be dated, but just for your reference.
posted by WCityMike at 5:06 PM on December 8, 2007

BTW, what about the $298 Wal-Mart PC? It uses gOS, which apparently is a very, very, very, very, very, very, very super-simplified Linux OS.
posted by WCityMike at 5:09 PM on December 8, 2007

Getting an old 3Com Audrey or a Celery (odd idea, but really rather neat) is probably your best bet.
posted by WCityMike at 5:13 PM on December 8, 2007

There's the Mailbug, too.
posted by WCityMike at 5:14 PM on December 8, 2007

Forget about the Audrey.
posted by WCityMike at 5:15 PM on December 8, 2007

Response by poster: WCityMike, Thanks for the suggestions. The WalMart PC is just a bit too complex- I feel like even double clicking on a gmail icon might be too much. I checked out the previous threads before posting, but everything mentioned seemed a little obsolete.
posted by stewiethegreat at 5:19 PM on December 8, 2007

Response by poster: Mailbug looks hopeful
posted by stewiethegreat at 5:21 PM on December 8, 2007

It's important to bear in mind this caveat from a previous thread regarding the potential hazards of giving a senior access to email.
posted by Dasein at 5:34 PM on December 8, 2007

Mailbug doesn't support attachments, so no pictures.
posted by decathecting at 5:36 PM on December 8, 2007

My mother-in-law has a Mailstation. No attachments there, either. She really likes it though.
posted by Doohickie at 5:39 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I really liked the audrey. If you set it up for him, it can do exactly what you describe - It wasn't that hard to set up with a customized audrey. You could do it in a weekend if you were so inclined.
posted by bigmusic at 5:41 PM on December 8, 2007

WRT a cheap PC, if you're worried about double-clicking a gmail icon, get him a keyboard with some media keys (if that's what they're called. You know, little buttons on the top of the keyboard that have icons on them ). The OS should map the keys to their various functions automatically but if not, then configure it so that when the internet button is pressed the browser will open up. Make the browser start with gmail. Just to make things easier, stick a post-it note on the keyboard saying "push this button for email".

For email safety, it may be a good idea to set up the account so only people on a white-list can send him email. If he's cool with it, ask if you can have his email password so that you can modify settings/the white-list as necessary.

For his stories, software such as BasKet Note Pads might be a good idea. It saves data as soon as it is entered so there is no need to press CTRL-S. All the text he enters is there in one big file so no worries about trying to remember what directory it was in.

As for the cell-phone thing, if it's a flip-phone can't you just set it to answer once you open it up? At that point it's about as simple as a regular phone (to answer anyway). And if it's not a flip-phone then maybe it ought to be.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:55 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

(I don't have any email suggestions, but what about getting him a flip phone and setting it to answer when it opens? I think even a luddite could manage that.)
posted by happyturtle at 6:40 PM on December 8, 2007

Set him up with an Ubuntu box that's set to auto logon and auto open the browser, whose home page is set to Then, all he has to know how to do is switch it on.

Despite what you say about him being unable to learn, he will learn anything he finds genuine value in; and if you make Gmail his first mail client, then he won't have to learn anything different when the time eventually comes for him to use his mail account from some other computer.
posted by flabdablet at 6:58 PM on December 8, 2007

msn tv (which used to be WebTV back in the day)
posted by O9scar at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2007

If you wanted to go one step further, setup a linux-on-CD system with auto-open gmail and then not only would it work all the time, but he couldn't load virii, there wouldn't be any hardware issues, etc.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2007

posted by caddis at 7:53 PM on December 8, 2007

If I were an old bloke whose fingers weren't as nimble as they once were, a tiny Blackberry keyboard would make me very, very cross.
posted by flabdablet at 8:01 PM on December 8, 2007

For somebody who doesn't know how or when to save things, Gmail's auto-draft-save feature would be a godsend, too.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 PM on December 8, 2007

My grandmother had a Mailstation and loved it. She emailed everyone constantly. I tried to set her up with a laptop, but the whole process really intimidated her and she just went back to the mailstation.

I would buy two though. My grandmother broke her first one and then was a bit uncomfortable with the slight differences in the newer model as opposed to the older one. She figured it out, but we bought 3 more machines when we bought the second one to make sure that we wouldn't have that trouble again.
posted by aburd at 8:05 PM on December 8, 2007

Respectfully, I think suggestions like an Ubuntu box are wildly optimistic. I have found mailstation works well, including for my parents, but they weren't complete Luddites -- and one of them could do rudimentary operations (like "save") on a computer. I would think that if mailstation-level technology didn't work, you would do best to send faxes, or print email and send my snailmail -- with the outside chance that grandpa would feel left out if he saw the ease of the printed exchanges.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:06 PM on December 8, 2007

Yes, the keyboard of a blackberry is tiny, but the email implementation is easy, easy, easy. You turn on the device (if you ever turn it off) you roll over to the email icon and click away. It's not for wordy people though.
posted by caddis at 8:10 PM on December 8, 2007

I wonder if a Asus Eee might do the job? But, might be a bit complicated for your Grand-dad, otherwise something like the Mailstation that other's have suggested might be best.
posted by zaphod at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2007

Now that I think about it, what the world needs is an email tablet with a large screen, with large font, and a proper keyboard, with email, internet and phone access and which connects through the cell phone network, acts like a big blackberry but is designed to be used in the home, not so much get carried around town. Put a mike and cam into it for a video conferencing with the grand kids. Make it cheap.
posted by caddis at 8:14 PM on December 8, 2007

A Wii (if you can find one).
posted by MegoSteve at 10:19 PM on December 8, 2007

I don't know what kind of connection Grandpa might have, but my five year old daughter sends lovely, incomprehensible e-mails to us from a Gmail account that is always open in Firefox, on an old laptop we weren't using anymore. We have WiFi in the house, so that certainly makes it easier, but she never has to navigate at all.

And if she accidentally closes Firefox, opening it again, we put the Gmail personal login on the navigation bar, and named the button (NAME'S) E-MAIL, so she can't miss the only button she might have to click.
posted by headspace at 10:36 PM on December 8, 2007

My grandfather learned to use an actual computer at 75, running plain old windows. He had an AOL account, though. Which, although I hate aol, was really perfect for him. An all-in-one solution designed for non-computer types.
Granted, all he could do was turn it on and double-click AOL so he could email his siblings, but even so... If you or another relative have an older system, maybe a PII or better, you could just strip it down of everything but the basics, and install that, msn, or similar.

(and seriously, get grandpa a new phone. most flip phones can be set up so they "answer" automatically when you open them so he won't have to worry about knowing which button to push. Shoot, if you have AT&T you can have my old phone for him. Call it a Christmas gift from a gal who misses her technophobe grandpa.)
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:07 AM on December 9, 2007

I just ran into an older friend (70s) who is a notorious techno-phobe and he was happy to tell me about sending his first email ever with his new Blackberry. The response to that email was "is that really you, George?"
posted by caddis at 5:01 AM on December 13, 2007

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