Opinion: The iPad and the centenarian

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Over the Thanksgiving holidays I had the opportunity to visit with my favorite 100-year-old—Lew, my mother’s husband. His birthday rolls around again in a couple of weeks and, as you might imagine, with a century of stuff tucked away here and there, he’s a hard man to shop for.

But not this year. This year he gets his own iPad.

When the iPad was first released some dismissed it as a toy, an overgrown iPod touch, or an inadequate laptop substitute. Even those who generally support Apple’s hardware efforts wondered exactly what they might do with an iPad. And, for a lot of them, it took using one to find out.

For example, during a family gathering last summer my sisters and I convinced my mother to get an iPad, figuring it would be an easy way for her to check her e-mail and surf the Web. She and my older sister visited the local Apple Store and returned with a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad along with Apple’s iPad case. I configured her e-mail account, bookmarked a few favorite Websites, and left her to it.

During my Thanksgiving visit I found that she has expanded her horizons. She’s now an avid Words With Friends player, frustrated that she’s less successful with Angry Birds HD than her 9-year-old granddaughter, just getting the hang of watching Netflix movies on her iPad, and has downloaded a few old and new books from the iBookstore.

It’s this last purpose that brings us back to Lew. With the “for a 100-year-old” caveat in mind, he’s in great shape. He gets around with the aid of a walker, he goes to the gym twice a week, he reads three papers a day, and he follows every ball caught, dropped, kicked, or thrown by a UCLA team.

He’s also a great reader, but that’s become more difficult for him. He requires large-print books and he’s read through most of the ones he cares to from the local library. He’d like to revisit some of his favorite books but he can’t because they aren’t available in large print.

But thanks to the iPad, many now are.

The day before we returned home from our holiday, my mother asked Lew to put down the book he was reading and take a look at the Dick Francis e-book she’d purchased from the iBookstore. She placed the iPad in his lap, launched the iBooks app, adjusted the font size, and asked him to read the first page aloud to confirm that he could see the print clearly. This he was able to do. She then showed him how to turn and bookmark pages and use the table of contents.

He looked down at the large-print book in his lap, looked up at the iPad, and said,

“This is the end of libraries for me. How marvelous!”

Reports are that the next day he called my mother into the den, requested “that machine,” asked her to show him the Dick Francis book again, and the iPad wasn’t seen for another three hours. Reading on the iPad is now part of his daily routine. This is terrific because Lew need never want for readable books again. On the other hand, it also means my mother has to wait to lay a little WWF zygote smackdown on my older sister until after Lew goes to bed.

And that—as much as the miracle of e-books for the aged—may best explain Lew’s 101st birthday present.

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