My mother’s generation

by joly

In this story, Journalist Julie Holley writes about her mother and her favorite college professor Jean Grossholtz, and their relationship to the Internet. To round it off we hear (via video) from Prof. Grossholz herself

Jean Grossholtz belongs to my mother’s generation. My mother turned 81 on February 14; Jean will be 80 on April 17. Statistically: elderly. But neither woman embodies the category.

In fact, each is extraordinary – in their youthfulness.


There’s no denying the lived-in skin. Wrinkles from feeling what Jean and Mom have felt over the span of their respective lives – wrinkles that have become more numerous as the days have multiplied.

Children of The Great Depression, each can claim, as fundamental to their character a deep well of strength and resolve – and courage – especially in this Information Age.

When revolutions like the Internet come along there is always the danger of the “old guard” being left on the roadside, the Information Superhighway, whizzing by, confusingly. Not so with Jean and my mother.

“I love my computer, I’m in love with my computer” Jean says, followed by a smile, sunlight pouring in, on a recent afternoon in her living room in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Professor Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College, Jean was one of my favorite teachers while I was an undergraduate there.

“How do you know what you know?” Who benefits from what you know?” she would (and still does) ask. Jean prodded her students and everyone around her to think critically, to be ever watchful of the Patriarchy, to resist injustice. Today, in this era of instantaneous information and hyperlinks she worries that most of us don’t question enough. Considering how many of us rely on search engines like Google to ferret out websites that appeal to our online appetites, Jean’s concerns are, in my view, legitimate.

Jean relies on email to communicate with those far and near; maintaining a world-wide network of those for whom the Internet has altered the means and methods of her political activism. Jean’s efforts in the domains of geo-politics and the environment have been enhanced by her ability to organize globally and to collaborate with allies internationally. Ideas, criticisms, suggestions embed themselves in the email, the conversational threads transported via Jean’s Macintosh; a machine she embraced early on.

Utilizing email, my mother fills my inbox with jokes, prayers, patriotic verses and most importantly personalized messages inspired by the mother-daughter relationship. When she and I began making use of email I created a folder named: “Mom’s missives.” Ever since, I have amassed an archive of emails I have deemed noteworthy, worth saving. It is one of the ways I honor her. One of the ways her life is embedded within mine.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project over half of the adult internet population is between 18 and 44 years old. But larger percentages of older generations are online now than in the past, and they are doing more activities online, according to surveys taken from 2006-2008. Jean and my mother are representative of the least represented (older Americans 73+) group of internet users. Comprising 4% of the United States internet-using populace acquiring the capacity to email has been the activity they relish most.

Just a few days ago my mother emailed me a Woolworth’s menu circa 1950. I was a child of the sixties so while I was not a beneficiary of a 30 cent egg salad sandwich or a 10 cent king size Coke, the economics of memory were ignited by the mere motion of my mother’s hand upon her keyboard; an effect enabled by her AOL account.

Economics of memory?

Simply, a supply of memories – whereby I am entering a Woolworth’s – as an unaccompanied minor – in pursuit of presents for my mother. Known as “the five-and-dime” Woolworth’s sold inexpensive, useful items – Items within the reach of my allowance-enabled budget.

Some older Americans like Edith, a silver-haired Brooklynite and grandmother of two prefer the phone to email. As her grandchildren grow up, immersed in a downloadable, interactive world will something as “basic” as email become more appealing to her?

I’ll bet my inbox on it.

Part 1

Part 2

Links:
Wikipedia page

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