When It Comes To Computers, They Speak Different Languages

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`I'm sorry that our relationship is based on these computer questions,'' she said.

That's OK. I was used to her surprise calls.

''It says I need to change my IP address.''

Recommended: Default

Oh.

''How do I do that?''

It was clear we were entering a new phase here. I'd have to be more patient, more understanding. This was a big step. My mother had logged onto the Internet.

Even under the best circumstances, the Internet and the modems used to connect to it are tricky. I wondered whether my mother -- emerging from the computer-pupa stage -- was ready for this. She assured me she was, so I tried to ease the way.

I bought the modem. I had her ship me the notebook computer so I could load the software onto it. I tagged all the modem connections with numbered labels and typed four pages of detailed instructions. It still wasn't enough.

I never imagined her Internet-service company would ask her to change something as obscure as an IP (Internet Protocol) address. (That's the numeric address for the Internet-connected computer you're trying to link up with.) It's hard to give computer directions to someone who's hanging onto a phone line 500 miles away, even under the best of circumstances.

And these were not the best of circumstances. When a computer-columnist son tries to explain to his computer-novice mother what to do, the communication doesn't exactly flow.

Son: ''Click on the boxes that need changing and type in the numbers.''

Mother: ''What do you mean: 'Click on the boxes?' ''

Son: ''Move your pointer over to the box you want to change. Then click on your trackball. Then you can type in the correct number.''

(Did I sound impatient? I wondered. Was I being simple enough? Was this phone call going to cost a fortune?)

Mother: ''The screen is beginning to flash.''

Son: ''Is there anything on the screen that tells you why?'' (I was as baffled about this as she was.)

Mother: ''No.''

Son: ''Try hitting Escape.''

That got rid of the flashing screen, but it also meant we hadn't accomplished anything. Then she told me the Internet-service company had just sent another message entitled ''Oops. We goofed.'' I suggested she go and read that before doing anything else about the IP address.

It turned out that the address did not need to be changed.

The last time I wrote about their computer experiences, my parents didn't like the result. ''You made us look like such nincompoops,'' my mother said.

I never intended that. My point then -- and now -- is that there's a great gulf between those who are comfortable with computer technology and those who aren't. We can smile and wave to each other. But we talk a different language.

I call it a serial port. To my mother, I describe it as ''the hole in the back of the computer with nine pins sticking out.''

Eventually, technology makes appear simple what it first made complex. The next generation is already adapting to these still-too-technical machines. Meanwhile, we struggle to overcome the jargon that divides us.

So here's to you, Mama. Maybe we can meet halfway, somewhere out on the Information Frontier.

* Send comments via Internet (laurentb@delphi.com) or to CompuServe (70541,3654) or Prodigy (BXGN44A).

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