In high school, I was the girl who threw up in typing class and had to drop the course. The clang of a carriage return still makes me nauseous.
A good student in all other ways, I simply could not master the keyboard and the accompanying stress of a teacher hovering with a stopwatch, demanding that I type 40 words a minute with fewer than five mistakes.
Decades later when I reentered the workplace right before my impending divorce, I found my desk overshadowed by a computer. No one ever told me I had to use it or helped me to learn how. “Surfing the information highway” was a given, and because I desperately needed the job, I decided to try to fake my way. Running my hands over the screen and keyboard, I made a covenant with the Internet: If it did not betray me, I would never tell anyone how little we knew about each other.
Very quietly, I chose a technology course for my required continuing education. To my delight, it was taught by a former housewife who dignified even the student who referenced her monitor as that “cute little microwave thingy.” The teacher taught me enough basics and lingo that coworkers started asking me for computer advice!
As use of the Internet became an integral part of advancing in my field, I saw others my age polarize. There were those of us who knew we had to get on board or perish and, sadly, another group who declared themselves unable or unwilling to adapt. They chose early retirement instead.
So what do I know now about the Internet? I know that I can manipulate it at warp speed with my index fingers. I know how to blog with my grandkids in South Asia. I know it is very empowering. Logging on still gives me a rush I most equate with how I felt each time I held in the starter of my dad’s ’52 Chevy. And I know from observation that being able to access information online keeps people from becoming old, marginalized and isolated. Perhaps most importantly, I know that in a lot of ways I am far more adept, determined and confident than I was in high school.
The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and publish some of our favorites in print and online. Nelda Howell Lochamy is a reader from Greensboro, N.C.