Some basic lessons in tech for the family
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