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Practicing Thumbmanship And Other Neat Tricks Of The Smartphone Age

Barbara Leedom: "Recently, it became clear: It was time to text. But how?" (Timothy Valentine/flickr)
Barbara Leedom: "Recently, it became clear: It was time to text. But how?" (Timothy Valentine/flickr)
This article is more than 5 years old.

I don’t tweet or have a Facebook page. I don’t do selfies, and I certainly don’t put myself on YouTube. But recently, it became clear: It was time to text. I’m mentoring a college student, and that’s how she communicates. So do my grown children and their children. They take and send photos by phone, too. It was my time, and I knew it

It seems like only a few years ago, I was learning how to do online research. And only a few years before that, I learned how to do online anything.

Onward to research. Hours of online research. What kind of phone? How much to pay for it? How much will it cost to use it each month? It seems like only a few years ago, I was learning how to do online research. And only a few years before that, I learned how to do online anything.

In the phone store, I told the kind kid, Janson, who looked to be about 14, that I was not tech savvy, and that simplicity was my first criterion.

“No problem,” he said. “I’ll set it up for you. I did it for my grandmother.”

What transpired next was a sight for these old eyes to behold. Janson’s fingers moved across and up and down the phone’s keyboard as if they were wired to it. In moments, I had a new phone, a new phone number and a warranty.

“You gotta’ play with it,” he told me. “You gotta’ practice. My grandmother got the hang of it pretty fast, like, a week or two. No worries, you’ll do fine. Like, go for it.”

I asked about instructions, a manual, directions. Something to read, study. I told him instructions in writing are important to me.

“You gotta’ download the manual. They don’t come with, like, those things anymore.”

I know how to download. It took a while, but I download. Uploading is another matter. I don’t know what it means. It must not be too important, because I’ve never had to upload.

Back home with my phone, its battery full and power off, I went to my old p.c. and found the instructions to download the manual, all 148 pages. My printer balked.

I read some of the manual on my screen. On the first page, I was congratulated and welcomed. Nice touch. I found the power button. I couldn’t turn it on. This was not an auspicious start.

Later that day, I asked my 12-year-old neighbor why I couldn’t turn on the phone. He told me the secret of holding the button for three seconds. There was nothing in the instruction manual about this. Who knew? He said just about everybody, like, knows.

Since Janson had been kind enough to take care of the initial settings in the store, I could skip to encryption. I didn’t know what the word meant, but it sounded eerie. Bold type told me encryption is irreversible. I didn’t want to do anything irreversible, so I moved on – a term that had recently become part of my vocabulary, having heard the young people saying it.

Icons, widgets, apps and ringtones. All of it was new language to me. The manual assumes the reader knows what these terms are and what they do. Janson was correct about practicing. Some things, such as connecting a phone interface to the vehicle electrical system, will have to wait for a professional — or until I’m adept at managing my apps. Collecting diagnostics data for troubleshooting is not in my comfort zone, either. Yet. Neither is changing the PIN used to access the SIM.

Whereas thumbs are essential for texting, they get in the way when trying to capture (that’s the word in the manual) a picture.

Alas, practice is not making perfect. I watch people on buses and the T, heads down, buds in ears, typing with their thumbs. I’m not even close to being able to do that. I take the phone from my purse and turn it on in the subway. I need eyeglasses to read the screen. I take glasses from my purse, put them on and attempt to text using thumbs. I do not get very far. One of these days, I will.

Days go by. I’ve learned to make and receive phone calls and texts. Now, it’s time to take and send pictures. Glare is a problem, or, as people say these days, an issue. Whereas thumbs are essential for texting, they get in the way when trying to capture (that’s the word in the manual) a picture. The first 60 or so photos capture my thumb in the corner of most of them. I practice.

It gets easier. I get better. I can do this. I’m determined, darn it.

Related:

Barbara Leedom Cognoscenti contributor
Barbara Leedom is a retired English teacher who lives on Cape Cod.

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