Monday, January 17, 2011

Play! Playlist! Broadway!

The instructions are written on a notepad with Sharpie marker in large letters and read like this:
Push button and HOLD.
Blue screen = let go!
"Beep Beep"= talk!
Say "Play playlist..."

  • Broadway
  • Praise
  • Classical
  • World*
To stop say "Pause."

Last week, I took Mom to Best Buy to shop for her birthday gift.  At 85, she was dead set on getting a new MP3 player.  About 8 years ago, a sweet friend in Waco helped her purchase a reconditioned MP3 player and loaded about 1000 songs on it from his collection.  The "John Willome MP3 Player" played its last tune a few weeks ago.  It was time to put the 6.6 oz. Dell  player that was the size of a transistor radio to rest.  Mom was in the market for another one "just like it" because it operated by turning little wheel bars that clicked.  "I push this button, then turn this 4 clicks for jazz music.  Three clicks for Christian!"  I tried to explain to her that "clicking" was a thing of the past.  She was not convinced.

The trip to Best Buy was interesting, to say the least.  I explained to the Best Buy associate that we were looking for some sort of MP3 player that could be operated by an 85 year old who is visually impaired.  Mother is legally blind due to macular degeneration.  "Hmmm.  Let me think..." he said wrinkling his 20-something year old brow.  I'm sure that he was loaded with answers that your run-of-the-mill teenager might ask about MP3 technology.  Options for the visually impaired...not so much.  

"She could just use an iPod Shuffle.  All she would have to do is push a button," he ventured. No, a Shuffle would not do.  Mom wanted to be able to play her music in categories.  A Shuffle might indiscriminately dole out "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat," "Blessed Assurance," and "No One Mourns the Wicked" on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in July.  Miss Helen needed to be able to choose the musical genre befitting her mood.  Shuffling was definitely not an option.  Also, the 1.11"X1.24" device would certainly be able to hide in plain sight from a woman who cannot seem to keep up with her purse.

The Best Buy associate looked a bit flummoxed.  "Hmmmm. So. she can't read the little screens, and she wants to be able to choose the playlists?"  "Exactly!  What do you have that would work for her?!" I asked.  Actually, I already had an idea in my head because Jonathan and I had googled and scrutinized the options the day before.  I just wanted to see what the Best Buy guy would come up with.  "Can't the iPod Touch be operated with voice command?" I hinted.  "Oh, yeah!  Do you think that she could figure out how to work it?" he asked skeptically.  "All we can do is try!" I said with all the hope I could muster.

In the few minutes during which the guy showed me how to activate the voice command feature of the iPod Touch, Mom did not show much promise in the voice command department.  Assuring us that we could return the iPod within 30 days, the sales associate happily darted away to assist a more techno-savvy customer.  We proceeded to the checkout line, and soon Mom was the proud owner of a 4th Gen Apple iPod Touch 8 GB MP3 Player.

This 3.56 oz, 4.4"X2.3" bit of technology has the ability surf the internet in its entirety, send emails to Buddhist monks in Nepal, and make face to face phone calls to a goatherd in the Swiss Alps.  It seemed as though Mom was adopting a lively puppy that would be confined to a shoebox for the rest of its born days.  This iPod will never know the joy of showing off its many gifts and talents.  It will live on my mom's living room credenza resting on a lace doily next to a collection of brass and glass candlesticks just waiting for the sound of it's master's voice.  "Play...playlist...Broadway!"

Teaching Mother to operate the voice command feature of the iPod was like a comedy routine.  
Me:  "OK, Mom!  Just push the button, wait for the 'beep-beep,' and say the command!  

Mom:  "Like this?"

Me:  No, you have to push it and HOLD it!" 

Mom [her thumb was turning white from her vice grip pinch on the button]:  "Like this?!"

Me:  "Not too hard!  Just press!  Remember to let go of the button when the blue screen comes up!"  

Mom [yelling while crushing the button]:  "Classical!!" 

Me [gritting my teeth]:  "No, Mom!  You've got to wait for the 'beep-beep,' THEN, say 'play, playlist, classical!'"

Mom [bellowing]:  "Play classical!"

Me:  "Try again!  Just forget the 'beep-beep.'  Say, 'Play, playlist, classical!'"  

Mom [while pushing the button]:  "Is that the blue screen?  Do I let go now!?"  

Me:  "Yes.  Let go now.  But, you have to start over because the iPod doesn't understand the command, 'is that the blue I let go now..."  

Mom:  "Oh.  Should I push the button again?"

After about 10 minutes of practice, she finally had the hang of it.  We practiced about 10 more times.  "Mom, tell it to play 'Praise!'"  "Play!  Playlist!  Praise!"  At the sound of Amy Grant's voice, we both cheered and gave each other an enthusiastic high five.  I felt like I had just taught my granddaughter to ride a bicycle.  "Keep peddling!  You can do it!"

In 1927, the aerosol can came into being, the first cinema "talkie" (The Jazz Singer) made its debute, the tuberculosis vaccine was created, and Helen Katherine Williams Kinzbach was born.  She has enjoyed music on the radio, the phonograph, an 8-track player, a cassette tape, a CD, and, as of last Thursday, the 4th Gen Apple iPod Touch 8GB MP3 player.  She's the techo-wizard of her generation.  Play!  Playlist!  Praise!

*"World" is the category for my collection of artists like Joanne Shenandoah, Jesse Cook, Babak Afshar, and Monte Montgomery.  It's kind of a catch-all for those sounds.

1 comment:

Anabeth said...

happy birthday helen,
you officially know waaaaay more than me about technology.
many happy returns of the day.



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