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Silver Threads: Old folks and computers

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

While my husband and I stood in line at the Apple store at Lakeside mall the other day, the 30-something woman behind us asked if we “enjoyed the new technology.”

I was probably wrong to smell a bit of condescension in that, but older folks can be as sensitive as they are tough. And it would never have occurred to me — back in the '50s — to ask an octogenarian at a car repair shop the same question.

But we were in the store on that day precisely because I wasn’t enjoying the new technology. I’d gotten involved in an internet scam, something I’d managed to avoid for as long as I’ve been using a computer. Some years ago, a cousin of mine who travels extensively sent an email saying that she and her husband were penniless and “desperate” in London, having been robbed of credit cards, travelers checks and cash. They needed me to wire them some money.

I put the message in the trash bin because, in the first place, she’d told me they were in London “in the U.K.” and I knew she knew that I know exactly where that city is. Foreign scammers have a way of making these kinds of silly mistakes on their phishing expeditions.

(In the second place, my cousin’s son is richer than anybody else in our extended family will ever be, so why didn’t she just email him for help?)

I never took mail purportedly from Cox seriously either, even when “they” threatened to cut off service to our telephones, computers and TV sets if we didn’t supply a password to our account.

And I’ve resisted replying to all those messages that offer me untold millions if I reply to a promise that the money is just sitting there, waiting.

But I bit — no pun intended — when the “Apple folks” notified me that I’d been the victim of online fraud and had better call their “help line” posthaste. The message that dropped down on my computer screen looked authentic, with design and fonts matching the ones I get when they ask if I really want to sign off. So I called, got a guy named Victor, watched him root around in my computer, and then hung up on him when he said it would cost $399 to fix my so-called problem.

In retaliation, Victor filled my screen with a video of dogs jumping around wildly to the very loud strains of rock. That went on for about 15 minutes despite efforts to close it down, then finally stopped for good.

But what else had they done to my Apple? I’d better have it checked out, I thought; thus the long trip to the store and the long line and the patronizing — or maybe not — lady. Nothing was wrong, the dancing dogs weren’t in the system, the tech cleaned up my yucky screen and told me that Mac owners never receive messages like the one I’d gotten. Good to know.

Searching for a snappy finish for this column, I Googled “old folks and computers” and came up with a list of websites including COMPLEX, which offers “a hilarious gallery of old people trying to use computers.”

I’m stunned. But the good-looking seniors featured in this gallery probably are smarter than 99 percent of the juniors who laugh at them. No Mammy Yokums here ... but wait; wasn’t she at least as intelligent as Li’l Abner?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]