View from afar

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
Senior citizens in both Hillsboro and Chicago are taking computer classes. At first glance, this seems harmless enough-conjuring up an image of sweet old grandmas and grandpas giggling while they learn about the new-fangled contraption that mesmerizes the younger folks.


I wish to sound the alarm. This could be trouble. Drug use, low grain prices and unemployment are mere blips on the radar screen of crisis compared to the risks of senior citizens using computers.


Sure, it all starts innocently enough. They just learn to double-click the mouse and play a little solitaire and maybe look up a few things on the encyclopedia.


But these retired folks are not without skill and cunning. These are the folks who took World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War in stride.


These are women who dressed their five kids in clean clothes using a Maytag wringer washing machine and a bottle of bluing. These are men who kept an Allis Chalmers combine alive for the last three days of wheat harvest using only two bent nails and recycled bailing wire.


These are folks who shooed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse off their front porch as though they were overeager Watkins salesmen. They knew exactly where to slap a vacuum tube RCA TV to get Walter Cronkite on the evening news.


Folks who can do all this and still raise tomatoes in 110-degree heat with a steady south wind are a force to be reckoned with. I am afraid they will learn computers all too well.


When they learn how to access Internet sites like “hotmail.com” and “Yahoo.com,” they will start exchanging photographs with their granddaughters in Denver and Los Angeles. (They may both have blue hair-but the granddaughter is the one with a ring in her nose,)


Junior high students will end up going to their grandparents to do homework.


“But Mom, grandma has the new Encarta encyclopedia for my book report.”


They will stay late competing on video games.


Or worse, the zany creativity of high school students will combine with the calm persistence of their grandparents and together they will hack into the Co-op computer and reset wheat prices to seven dollars a bushel.


The entire community will pay a price. Wait until there is a 30-percent decrease in quilts at the Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale.


“Sorry, I didn’t get them done. That old computer downloads files so slow, the time just got away from me.”


Their excuses will mount.


“We’d love to baby-sit the grandchildren, but could we do it some other time-we want to e-mail a question into the ‘Larry King Show’ tonight.”


Arguments will start.


“I don’t care what the Wichita Eagle says about the Bush education program, if you’d check the New York Times you would see it is all rhetoric and no substance.”


Their demands will increase. No longer satisfied with Southwind.net, they will sweetly but firmly ask the city council to consider getting a DSL line.


They will look at retirement condos and apartments and ask, “Well, the kitchen is very nice and compact. But could you show us something with a dedicated phone line for my modem?”


Just because senior citizens in the past 50 years paid enough taxes and voted “yes” on enough bond issues to transform Marion County education from one-room country schools to computer-wired classrooms doesn’t give them the right to hang out in classrooms.


OK, maybe it does.


But who will sign their report cards?

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