Years ago, my Auntie Wai-ling retired from her job as an architect just before office computers took over our lives. “I was so lucky,” she said recently. “I had people to type things up for me, not like you poor kids today who have to do all your typing yourself! My office wanted me to learn to use the computer when it first came out, but I said, no thank you, I’m retiring! Oh, did you see that YouTube clip of that dog? My God, it is so funny! I’ll WhatsApp it to you now!”
Amanda says it’s amazing that someone who completely bypassed the CPU, floppy disc, thumb-drives, and every single edition of Microsoft Office is as technologically connected as Auntie Wai-ling. “I only just discovered that I had a Search function on my computer the other day. Did you know about that?”
Saffy’s impressive bosom trembled. “Please don’t talk to me about computers. My office is upgrading its tech and I’m so stressed by the whole thing. I wish I could retire now and play mah-jong all day like your Auntie Wai-ling!”
Amanda sighed. “She keeps sending me invitations to play Candy Crush and some detective mystery game. Where does she find the time?”
“She’s eighty!” Saffy snapped. “She doesn’t have to commute or sit in endless productivity meetings. Of course she has time to play Candy Crush!”
“She’s amazing! I want to be like her when I turn eighty!” Amanda said with deep admiration.
A few days ago, Auntie Wai-ling rang in a state of excitement. “My God, my phone has died! What am I going to do?”
“Uhm, call someone who’s in IT?” I suggested.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “I’m going to slap you when I see you next! Listen, don’t joke! My whole life is on my phone! All my games, my telephone contacts, the videos of my grand-nieces, all my photos! Aiyoh, what am I going to do?” she moaned.
“Did you back it up? How are you calling me otherwise?”
“I don’t know how to back up, so my friend Mavis told me to write down all the phone numbers in my diary. That’s my back-up! It took me five hours but thank God I did it otherwise I would now be dead!”
“But if your phone is dead…”
“I have a land-line! Good thing I kept it. My friends say the young people today don’t even know what a landline phone looks like! Lucky I am still so old fashioned! Hello, can you help me or not?”
As I later said to Saffy, since when had I become an IT expert? “I am only just coming to terms with predictive text!”
Saffy begged me not to tell this story in public. “And anyway, I think all you need to do is re-install her phone, no? I’m pretty sure it’s not done a complete crash. The Apples are so stable these days.”
Which is how I found myself sitting in Auntie Wai-ling’s bedroom a few hours later. “We can re-watch the New Year’s Day countdown and fireworks while we wait!” she commanded as she settled herself comfortably against the propped up pillows on her bed. “You can sit there on the armchair!”
“Saffy says it’s pretty simple and then we can just re-install your apps,” I said as I bravely tapped the ‘Re-install’ icon and the whole phone blinked and went dark. “Is this meant to happen?”
“I hope so,” Auntie Wai-ling said, her eyes glued to her TV as she scrolled through the commands to call up the recorded show. “Otherwise, you can’t leave! I have so many appointments this week, I can’t remember who I’m supposed to have lunch with!”
“I can’t remember what day it is!” I told her.
“You’re so young. Wait till you get to my age! Have you heard from your mother lately?
Four hours, one fireworks countdown, and four trashy reality shows later, we had caught up with all our current family gossip, briefly touched on the state of Hong Kong’s education system, made plans for lunch the following week, and completely re-installed the misbehaving phone.
“Aiyoh, I hope it works now,” Auntie Wai-ling said as she showed me out. “I think I’m going to get the iPhone 6. I can’t deal with another breakdown. I’ll SMS you next week and tell you where we’re having lunch. Ok, bye!” she said closing the door firmly.
And as I waited for the lift to arrive, I couldn’t help but think in a world as connected as this, sometimes, nothing quite beats early retirement.