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Explaining The Internet to My Mother

Photograph by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez

My mother has taught me many things over the years. Some lessons I've heeded; others, I dismissed. These days, I'm the one trying to help her. My mom is smart in many ways but has no knowledge of how the internet works. And I've made it my job to explain it to her.

The other day we were talking on the phone and she asked me to search for something online. This is more or less how it went:

Me: Nope. Nothing.
Mom: How do you know?
Me: I just searched.
Mom: So fast?
Me: Yes, mom... This is how the Internet works.

I understand her amazement. She was born in the 1940s in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City when she was around 9 years old. She learned English and did so well in school that she skipped two grades. My mother has seen the world change and technology force its way into daily life. She has been reluctant to embrace it. (She only has a cell phone because I made her get one. And half the time, she keeps it off.)

But she asks questions and I like her curiosity.

"Lisa, when you use that Google? Is that free or do you pay for it?"

"No, mom. Google is free."

"Lisa, can you send an email from your phone?"

"Yes, mom. I can send emails from my phone."

Social media fascinates — and intimidates — my mother. She's always been an extremely private person and the idea of "putting my business out there" is something she is slowly learning to accept.

From time to time, I'll print out an article I've written for her to read. Or I show her my Facebook page to give her an idea of what it looks like. She laughs and says, "ay, Lisa," as she sees picture after picture of me, my son, the meals we eat or every place we visit. I remind her that I don't put everything online, only certain things. And I assure her that I am taking precautions to maintain my privacy.

It's only when I show her family members and their pictures that she gets the appeal. And then she'll ask me to find other long-lost relatives. As much as I would like to see my mom part of the social media world, I'm not sure I'm ready to be Facebook friends with her just yet.

Over the last few years, my mom has learned to (sort of) understand my social media life. She supports me and tells her neighbors about my blog. When I'm home and she sees me on the computer, she knows that I'm working. When I take a picture of her, she's sure to apply lipstick first because she knows it may end up on Instagram. But when she thinks I'm spending too much time online, she calls me out on it. And I need that too.

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