Our Tech Story

Wallace Russell Christensen was an engineer and an early adopter. He took a Basic programming class for his TRS80 while awaiting my delayed birth. He had one of the earliest portable computers (more of a word processor), and even Jerryrigged his tower computer to fit into his motor home to take it around the country with him. But to me, he was Gramps, who introduced me to 8-bit video games and showed me around the XTreePro file structure.

He said that computers were the way of the future and encouraged his three daughters to take computer classes (my mother was a programmer while I was growing up). A serious consumer of news, Gramps switched to online news subscriptions almost as soon as they were locally available. As his vision declined, the font could get bigger. Even when he became legally blind, we could adapt it to help him read his news.

After Gramps joined our multigenerational home at 90, I become his primary tech support. When his XP crashed, I wanted to get him a more robust system. For a couple of months we talked about how he liked to use his computer, what he felt comfortable doing, and how to make it work between his tremor and his rapidly failing eyesight. And the fact that nonagenarians tend to learn new habits a bit more slowly and piecemeal. We researched and tested different setups. We bought Gramps's first Mac and setup the system pixel size, highlighting color, and customized accessibility shortcut keys (using ones on the edge of the keyboard that he could easily find with a fairly severe tremor).

When cognitive decline hit and Gramps lost interest in the news, we sought to make his other forms of entertainment more enjoyable and his life as independent as possible. He had a wonderful, big button player to play audiobooks and I got an Apple TV for streaming Netflix content when he no longer wanted to sit at his computer. Having only a few buttons available made it slightly easier to poke around, and I was able to pause frequently to explain some of the visual aspects of complex shows such as Sherlock. It meant we could both be on the same page, watching the same show, and could talk about it. Gramps struggled hear TV dialog well (especially over his loud nebulizer), so he and I looked into headphones to make the dialogue easier to distinguish over music and sound effects.

This year Gramps started having back pain and sores from sitting too long in his comfy chair. The recommendation was to have him get up every hour or so and walk around. But Gramps couldn't really track time anymore, didn't have a full-time caregiver during the week to constantly remind him, and wouldn't remember what any timer going off was for. I thought the Apple Watch was a good solution: it has a stand up alert, a prominent tap to get his attention, and voiceover to tell him what he was supposed to do. It seemed like the best way available to both give him independence and avoid future back pain.

Going to an Apple Store to try on was out of the question, so Gramps and I looked at watch band colors on his high density monitor to figure out which he would be better able to find. When measuring and looking at the larger 42mm watch, Gramps said, "That looks good for the eyes, but not so good for the wrists!" So I ordered a pink 38mm. This last weekend another caretaker and I were preparing Gramps for the watch-- reminding him about the alerts, the independence, and asking Siri what the date is if he forgets. I've been so excited to set it up for him and to embark on a new project together that I was checking the unchanged order status daily.

But, as shouldn't be unexpected at 95, Gramps quietly passed away last night. At home, with his family present, exactly how we'd discussed and hoped. But now, my challenge is this button I'm struggling to hit:


I don't want to cancel our last tech project together. This passion I have for technology comes from Gramps (both directly and through my wonderful mother). Gramps and I have contrived and executed many tech projects and solutions together. It's hard to confirm canceling this last one.

Thank you for everything, Gramps. Thanks for your love and caring, thanks for your stimulating conversation, and thanks for the curiosity, the love of technology, and the problem-solving drive that you have inspired in me. Until our next great adventure...

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