I remember the phone call as if it were yesterday. It was my mother, and the year was sometime around 1995. "Jane," she said, "I really wish you would get email, it's such an easy way to talk.
She had grandchildren, one of whom signed her up for AOL, and my grandchildren were too young for that online connection.
Being welcomed into grandchildren's lives is a powerful incentive, and one of the joys of learning how to use the Web.
When I was a child, I typically saw my grandparents twice a year — once in the summer, when we visited them in Massachusetts, and once in winter, when they came to us in western New York.
Now, thanks to the digital world, I'm in touch with my own grandchildren anytime they, or I, want to tune in. Just this week, I exchanged emails with a grandson who's studying in London and another one planning his wedding in Minnesota.
A much younger grandson, on the phone from California, showed off how much he knew about American presidents while emailing me drawings that he'd made of his favorites. "Wow," I said, "John Quincy Adams. It looks just like him." I could see as well as talk.
A Pew Research survey in December 2009 found that 38 percent of people 65 and up now go online. That number jumps to 70 percent among people 50 to 64. Our age group is catching up, and here are four reasons why.
Email. Emailing children and grandchildren is just the start. You can pay them visits through Skype, a free Internet service that turns your computer into a video phone. You see the children's science projects, ballet steps and magic tricks instead of just hearing about them.
New laptops today come with cameras embedded in the frame above the screen. iPads and smartphones have them, too. Or you might buy a small camera and add it to the setup you already use.
Text. Teens and "tweens" never email each other anymore (email is so last century). Instead, they use their cellphones to text — send quick messages through a system called SMS, or short message service (there's an icon for SMS on the phone).
You get up to 160 characters, spawning a bewildering number of abbreviations — CUL8R (see you later), LMK (let me know), LOL (laughing out loud), BFF (best friend forever) and POS (parents over shoulder). Texting is mostly for cellphone addicts, which I'm not. Email still works fine, as long as your kids check their email, too.