Digital Slob

Curt Brandao

Mom was a big wheel,
ahead of her time

Though some might suspect Digital Slobs are the spawn of a biologically mutated computer virus, most of us have moms. And as Mothers Day approaches, we'll rack up the anytime minutes on our cell phones to prove it, using Digital Age devices to reminisce about the analog era.

My mom, like many others, won't go past Channel 13 on her digital cable service, has a 30-second outgoing message on her answering machine that's mute but for the background hum of her refrigerator, and reheats frozen pot roasts by hovering around the microwave punching the "popcorn" button every three minutes for the better part on an hour.

Still, perhaps more than anyone else, she has been a major influence on my relationship with technology.

One night in the mid-1980s, I came home to find Mom in a familiar pose -- on the couch with a cigarette in one hand and, in the other, a first generation cordless phone (about 3 pounds, as big as Shaq's right sneaker, with a retractable antennae that looked like it was backward-engineered from Sputnik).

For a late-blooming high-school sophomore with more forehead pimples than friends, it was a scene unnoteworthy in all respects -- except she was sitting silent with the phone to her ear, seemingly staring into space.

I found this so odd, in fact, that I almost asked her what she was doing.

But I couldn't risk it.

Like most teenagers, anytime I initiated a conversation with my mom, her remarks would, without fail, trigger an eruption of hormone-induced contempt that might make me black out and slam my head into her coffee table (the coffee table she bought just two months ago after two years of searching, that perfectly matched her sofa and lamp tables, that would then be ruined by my blood-stained nick -- all facts that she would feel compelled to drill into my cracked cranium even as the orderlies wheeled me into the emergency room).

So, I felt it best to let events unfold without comment.

As she continued her petrified pose, I thought maybe she was on hold -- like with computer tech support out of Bangladesh. But then I thought, "No, this is 1984 -- tech support still operates out of Redmond, Wash. And, besides, we won't own a computer until 1997!" Even for tech support, that's a long time to be on hold.

But just as my angst reached fever pitch, Mom finally spoke into the phone.

"I don't know what it is. Do you know what it is?" she said.

After a clueless nanosecond, it all came together. She wasn't staring into space, but rather at a fixed point -- the TV. She was watching "Wheel of Fortune." She was trying to solve the puzzle -- no, strike that, THEY were trying to solve the puzzle, she and her best friend, together, over the phone. And after doubling their brain power, they were still stuck. Even with all the vowels showing.

Even the Y.

I clutched the armrests on my chair, straining to keep my contempt from thrusting my forehead into her prized piece of Ethan Allen furniture.

Though I was then too ensconced in genetic self-hatred to understand, I now see that Mom was years ahead of her time. Bill Gates didn't come out with the Xbox until 2001, but my mom had a wireless, interactive, real-time gaming system up and running more than 15 years earlier.

Makes you wonder if Mother Gates was a "Wheel Watcher," too.

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Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's production editor. Reach him at:


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