Those Fantastic Picture Machines


Mother being wheeled into the airport in Washington, D.C., accompanied by my sister, far left.


My mother flew with my oldest sister to visit our family here in Virginia recently. I was so proud of her for making the trip—at age 92. She enjoys good health and a good mind, although she has numerous serious medical issues she has to manage. That makes travel an extra challenge. Her biggest “handicap” is increasing deafness.

“I felt so dumb at the airport—everyone much younger than me. Everyone looking at their picture machines.”

So it was particularly alarming when on their way back home, my sister texted me a half hour after I thought they had already taken off. She said the captain had announced that their plane had the “wrong flight plan” and they didn’t know when they’d get a new one. So my sister and mother, after sitting on the tarmac for a long time, were eventually allowed to go to the terminal, along with other passengers. They finally took off several hours later, to our great relief. The screw-up made them arrive home at 12:30 a.m. instead of a much more reasonable 8:30 p.m. In all, Mom had been en route for over 16 hours. By car it’s an easy 11-hour trip for younger drivers and passengers.

Frequent air travelers—or even infrequent ones—shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, that’s air travel, and you’ve got to plan for the unexpected.” Got that. My mother weathered the inconvenience and discomfort with a great deal of patience and forgiveness—even though I’m sure inwardly she was a nervous mess.

But in a letter the next day, she reflected instead on another challenge: “I felt so dumb at the airport—everyone much younger than me. Everyone looking at their picture machines.” (She knows they’re called smart phones or computers, but I loved her description.) Then she added, “Electronics. Life used to be simple!”

I imagine that many of the passengers were indeed using their picture machines to check whether there were options for other flights, to see whether there was a way to be reimbursed for inconvenience, to complain to the airline management via Twitter, and to keep their loved ones updated.

And I imagine that other passengers were looking at my mom and my sister, glad they weren’t in their shoes. Or perhaps admiring Mother for how she gets around. Still, it isn’t fun to feel different, out-of-date, or out of touch. And I know from observing and knowing other elderly persons that once you fail to keep up with the latest technology, falling further and further behind is inevitable.

But electronics are frustrating, time-consuming, and require a great deal of savvy and patience for even the youngest consumers. We were at the home of friends when a young college student was storming about not speaking to anyone. He had purchased a new laptop about a month earlier and had set it up to be ready for his classes. All of a sudden it locked up. And he was over-the-top mad. So age isn’t always the factor.

As a baby boomer myself, it’s sometimes scary to look ahead to the next 30 years of electronic change. When I’m approaching my mother’s age, what will my grandchildren be into? You know the questions, because you’ve likely asked them yourself.

I used to work with a young and smart web guru. He was knowledgeable, quick, and had the electronic patience of Job. And while he was understanding of those who did not want to adopt the latest technology, he would just kind of make a face, shrug his shoulder, and imply: You can adapt or fall behind. He was not being unkind, just coping with modern reality.


Holding great grandson, Henry, (7 months old) was a great reason to make the trip. (Note the airplane on his shirt.)

Life in the past may seem as though it was simpler, and in some ways, maybe was when there were no automatic dishwashers, driers, washing machines, computers, or photocopiers. It certainly was not less frustrating or demanding. It was just hard in different ways.


I’d love to hear your comments and stories! Please post at the website or send to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.