Yesterday, I helped my mother-in-law get set up on email for the first time. She got frustrated from time to time. Upon reflection, I decided that frustration was perfectly understandable. Imagine trying to learn to write a letter for the first time...
Me: Ok, to write a letter, the first thing you need is a piece of paper
and a pen.
Tarzan: What are those?
Me: Paper is flat stuff that is made from tree pulp, sort of like a very
small blackboard. Pens are sticks that write, sort of like chalk but smaller
and in darker colors.
Tarzan: Is this paper?
Me: Ah, yes, that is paper, but you don't want to write a letter on that,
that's my paycheck.
Tarzan: Why can't I use this?
Me: Well, that's a representation of money that I .. uh, never mind. Just
don't write on that. Look, here's a piece of paper that you can write on.
Tarzan: What about a pen?
Me: Pens are like little sticks. Do you see anything on this desk that looks
like a little stick? Uh, no, that's a ruler. Rulers are for measuring
things. Uh, no, that's a toothpick, it's for cleaning teeth, I don't know
why it's on my desk. Look, here's a pen.
Tarzan: That doesn't look like a little stick! It's grey. Little sticks
Me: I meant "little stick" metaphorically. Just use this. Uh, you
have to take the cap off first. Ok, now write "Dear Mom" on the paper. Wait,
you want to rotate the paper so that the short side is at the top and the
long side comes towards you.
Me: Well, that's just how it's done. I suppose you could do it the other
way, but it would look a little funny. Ok, now write "Dear Mom" on the--
oh, no, at the top. Well, never mind, we can just throw this one away and
start over. That's right, "Dear Mom" at the top. Then the rest of the letter.
Tarzan: Ok, I've finished the letter! Can we go hunting now?
Me: Well, you aren't really done. I mean, you are done with the letter,
but now you have to send it. You need to put the letter in an envelope
next. An envelope is a piece of paper that is all folded up to hide and
protect the letter. Uh, no, put my paycheck down, we don't want to fold it
into an envelope.
Tarzan: Wouldn't that work?
Me: Well, yeah, it would *work*, but it isn't the best way to do it, and
besides, I want to keep my paycheck. Look, just put your letter into
this envelope here.
Tarzan: It won't fit.
Me: Yeah, you have to fold it first. Um, it will work better if you fold
it into thirds. No, the other way. There you go, now put it in the envelope.
Good. Now seal the envelope by licking the paper here and folding it
Tarzan: You must be joking!
Me: No, really, that's how you seal the envelope. Look, if you don't want to
lick it, you could get a little sponge and dish of water and use the sponge
to wet the envelope flap.
Tarzan: I'll just go dunk it in the creek then.
Me: NO! Sorry, I didn't mean to yell. Look, I'll show you, I will lick
it for you. See? Easy.
Tarzan: Ok, now can we go hunting?
Me: No, not yet, we still need to address the mail so that the postman
knows who should get the envelope. So on the envelope, write
"Lady Greystoke" - nonono over here. Well, never mind, we can get a new
envelope for it. I'll take it out of the old one for you. Ok, here's
a new envelope for you, see if you can put it in - that's good - and seal
Tarzan: I cut my tongue!
Me: Ooops. It does take a little getting used to. Ok, now write "Lady
Greystoke" right here. Good! Ok, now we need to look up her address
in the address book. This is my address book, and you'll have to make
your own address book and fill it in with addresses.
Tarzan: How will I know what people's addresses are?
Me: You'll just ask them for their address.
Tarzan: How can I ask them if I can't write to them?
Me: You have to ask them some other way, like when you see them in person.
Tarzan: Why can't I just get a big book with everybody's address in it?
Me: Well, there are five billion people in the world, so it would be an
awfully big book, plus people move all the time, plus some people wouldn't
want their address in the book. Look, trust me, it works. You'll get
people's addresses. Ok, so underneath her name, write her address. Uh,
you put the street address on its own line, then the city and state and
Tarzan: What's a ZIP code?
Me: Don't worry about it, just do it.
Tarzan: Hmmpf. It would be a lot easier if I could just put "Mom." Ok, it's
addressed. NOW can we go hunting?
Me: Hold your horses. You need to put your return address in the upper
left-hand corner of the envelope.
Tarzan: What's my return address?
Me: It's how people can contact you. Your landlord should have given you
a piece of paper with your address on it. Yeah, that looks right, now
copy that to the upper left corner. Upper LEFT corner. Good. Ack! My desk!
Put the cap back on!
Me: It's very important that you put the cap back on the pen so that the
ink from the pen doesn't get all over everything. Ok, now we have to put a
stamp on the envelope, which is a way of paying for the delivery. You need
a 32-cent stamp. Never mind why. You need to put it in the upper right
hand corner, no, right-side up - so the 32 is right-side up. No, it won't
stay by itself, you have to lick it.
Tarzan: I'm not licking anything else, I cut my tongue last time.
Me: Oh, all right. I'll lick it for you this time. Tomorrow you can go
buy a different kind of stamps that you don't have to lick.
Tarzan: How many different types of stamps are there?
Me: Well, there's stamps you lick and self-adhesive stamps, and different
denominations of stamps, oh, and there are stamps from other countries but
you can't use them.
Tarzan: Why not?
Me: Because our government doesn't recognize those stamps. And we can't use
our stamps in other countries.
Tarzan: So do I have to use two different stamps if I send something to another
Me: No, there's an agreement with other countries that they will deliver
mail with our stamps if they come from outside the country.
Tarzan: So why can't we use other countries' stamps inside our country?
Me: They just won't, leave it be.
Tarzan: Ok, I'm going hunting now.
Me: Just a minute, just a minute! How do you think the letter is going
to get to your mother? Did you think it was just going to magically leap
from the desk and get to her? We need to take it somewhere that the Post
Office can find it.
Tarzan: How about under my pillow?
Me: Don't be smart with me, young man. We need to take it and either
put it in the mailbox or take it down to the post office.
Tarzan: Isn't the mailbox where mail comes *in*?
Me: Yes, but the postman will take it out of the mailbox and take it down
to the post office if it is already there.
Tarzan: Does that mean that if I don't take my incoming mail out of my
mailbox by the time the mailman comes again, he'll take all my mail away?
Me: No, it doesn't work like that. Look, it just works, ok? Just go
put it in the mailbox, I'm tired of arguing with you. Then go play in
the jungle or whatever, just leave me alone.
Tarzan: Sigh Letter-writing is *hard*!
Email looks pretty easy in comparison!