Some ba­sic lessons in tech for the fam­ily

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EX­PE­RI­ENCE SARA ELIAS

IHAVE A lit­tle study at the top of my house where I do my work. Or rather, I used to. For some time, my eight-year-old daugh­ter had be­come in­creas­ingly in­fu­ri­ated about hav­ing to share a room with her lit­tle brother. It may have been the way he used to wake her up to ask her the time at 3am; or per­haps it was the long con­ver­sa­tions he liked to hold with his bed­time com­pan­ion Peter Rab­bit af­ter lights-out.

What­ever the cause, I even­tu­ally de­cided her san­ity was more im­por­tant than my study. And so, a cou­ple of weeks ago, we trans­formed the lat­ter into a lit­tle at­tic bed­room for her (with the aid of a new pot of paint, called amethyst).

Mean­while, my “study” is now a corner of the kitchen.

When­ever one makes a de­ci­sion, there are of­ten con­se­quences that are hard to fore­see. Now that the com­puter is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, my five-year-old is rapidly be­com­ing a tech­no­log­i­cal ex­pert.

His big brother has sat down with him and made him his own pro­file, com­plete with a pass­word and a background im­age of his choice. (An ele­phant.)

He now likes to set­tle him­self down in the re­volv­ing chair, open up Word, and sit there typ­ing, earnestly. I had to show him that if he pressed the long key at the bot­tom of the key­board, he could make a “fin­ger space” be­tween each word. This made his work quite a lot eas­ier to de­ci­pher.

Af­ter two weeks of com­puter prac­tice, he now finds him­self in a po­si­tion to in­struct oth­ers. He saw me sit­ting at my desk yes­ter­day, the screen blank be­cause I hadn’t typed any­thing for a while.

“Mummy,” he said, com­ing over, “I’ll show you how to make the screen work. You just have to press any key. Look!”

I thanked him, gravely, for his as­sis­tance.

Of course, there’s noth­ing un­usual about any of this. Chil­dren tend to be able to use technology as nat­u­rally as they breathe. Though, while I’m deal­ing in sweep­ing gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, it’s fair to say that this is not al­ways true of the older gen­er­a­tion. My mother (whom — let’s not for­get the fifth com­mand­ment — has many amaz­ing skills I can only dream of) has never been com­fort­able with com­put­ers, even though she had to use them reg­u­larly in her ca­reer.

Try­ing to op­er­ate my dad’s com­puter re­cently, she got stuck and asked me what to do next.

“Just press the ‘es­cape’ key,” I said. “Where’s the es­cape key?” she asked.

How, I thought (and prob­a­bly said), is it pos­si­ble to have been us­ing com­put­ers for 30 years and not know where the es­cape key is? The es­cape key has been at the top left key of ev­ery key­board that has ever ex­isted.*

My first pub­lish­ing job was at an ec­cen­tric, in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher con­tain­ing ec­cen­tric, in­de­pen­dent staff. One of my col­leagues would reg­u­larly go into con­nip­tions, shout­ing, “Ev­ery­thing’s van­ished! My screen’s gone blank!”

“Have you tried press­ing Ctrl Z?” I would ask, gen­tly.

“What do you mean? What’s Ctrl Z?” she would de­mand.

“It un­does the last ac­tion you did, re­mem­ber?” I would say.

“Oh my god!” she would cry. “It’s all come back again. It’s a mir­a­cle!”

Be­fore I am struck down for bla­tant ageism, I should say that my dad is a tech­no­log­i­cal whizz. We ac­quired our first home com­puter in 1982, and he taught him­self how to pro­gram in Ba­sic. He wrote for his eight-year-old daugh­ter (me) a pro­gram to test times ta­bles. Ev­ery time I got a ques­tion wrong, it in­sulted me. It was worth mak­ing mis­takes in or­der to see which in­sult it would se­lect. There were lots of pos­si­bil­i­ties from which it chose at ran­dom. “Potty nit” was my favourite.

I think that there’s ac­tu­ally a lot of nat­u­ral in­stinct in­volved in be­ing good with technology, al­though kids have a huge head start on adults be­cause of be­ing born into it. In the same way that some peo­ple “just know” how to fix a ma­chine, or how to copy a dance move, or how to sing har­monies to a melody, there are peo­ple who “just know” how com­put­ers work. One can still get a lot bet­ter with prac­tice at all of these things, but the peo­ple with real tal­ent have a big dol­lop of “just know­ing” in­side them be­fore they even be­gin.

I, in­ci­den­tally, learned Ba­sic at the same time that my dad did. I wrote a pro­gram that started by say­ing, “What is your name?”. I would then get one of my three big broth­ers to type in their name. Philip, say. When he pressed Re­turn, the screen would fill up with text say­ing, “Philip is an id­iot,” over and over again.

I thought this was the fun­ni­est thing in the world — but please give me a break: I was only eight.

My child’s san­ity won over my need for a study


*For this state­ment, I have ad­hered to the Don­ald Trump school of fact check­ing.

BE­TWEEN THE night I met my hus­band and the mo­ment we at last stood un­der the chup­pah, I had be­come Shab­bat and kashrut ob­ser­vant; I had started to dress in a more mod­est man­ner and I un­der­stood the beauty of mikveh. How­ever, there was still one thing I could not come to terms with: cov­er­ing my hair. Once I was a mar­ried woman, I knew it was the right thing to do — if I was keep­ing the other mitzvot, then why not this one? But I still could not do it.

I think that most Jews who are be­com­ing more ob­ser­vant find things that they strug­gle with, but I be­lieve that for a woman cov­er­ing her hair is, as my reb­bet­zen so suc­cinctly put it, “a big­gie”, per­haps the big­gie.

The years of my mar­riage rolled by, bless­ing us with three chil­dren. And in be­tween all the big — and small — mile­stones, the sub­ject of hair cov­er­ing would come up ev­ery few months or so. It was al­ways me A wide range of wigs to choose from who brought it up, and al­ways me who said, “I know I should be do­ing this, I know.” My hus­band would lis­ten to me pa­tiently, and he would al­ways, with­out ex­cep­tion, say the same thing — whether you de­cide to cover your hair or not, it is your de­ci­sion. You must do what­ever makes you happy.

For a long time, per­haps most of the time, I felt that it was more likely than not a de­ci­sion I would never have the nerve to take. I googled “how to cover your hair (Jewish)” and I ex­per­i­mented in the privacy of my bed­room, cov­er­ing my hair com­pletely with a scarf. But I felt too ex­posed, too strange, see­ing my­self with­out my mane.

Yet still the thought of it would not go away. And at some point dur­ing this time the idea oc­curred to me that cov­er­ing one’s real hair — what­ever one cov­ers it with — is a very tan­gi­ble way of feel­ing the pro­tec­tive hand of Hashem over you at all times.

In the end, the de­ci­sion took me by sur­prise. It was Yom Kip­pur last year, neilah, and I had been in shul for the best part of the day. My chil­dren were be­ing looked af­ter, so I was free to daven with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

There I stood, feel­ing phys­i­cally empty from lack of food, but as spir­i­tu­ally full as I am likely to be all year, won­der­ing which of the myr­iad ways in which I needed to grow I was go­ing to try to take on this year. And then a thought (a voice, re­ally) popped into my head. “Yes, there are lots of things that you can do,” it said to me, “but ac­tu­ally, what you re­ally need to do is quite clear — stop putting it off and start cov­er­ing your hair.” And for the first time I was flooded with the cer­tainty that, yes, I was ready. With­out me re­al­is­ing, some­thing in me had shifted.

As soon as the ser­vice was over, I caught up with my reb­bet­zen. I pref­aced my an­nounce­ment say­ing: “I may re­gret this in the morn­ing, but right now I re­ally need to tell you about a de­ci­sion I have made…” She em­braced me warmly — the first of many sisterly hugs, both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, that I have re­ceived since mak­ing this de­ci­sion.

I have spent many years ob­serv­ing women who cover their hair, and so I de­cided to ap­proach a cou­ple of those I thought looked the most nat­u­ral for their ad­vice. I knew that for me, cer­tainly at the be­gin­ning, cov­er­ing my hair with a scarf would make me feel un­com­fort­able. Al­though we are an

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