Meet my mother, the internet refusenik. And don't tell me she's got things wrong

Grace Dent's mother comes from a time before Facebook check-ins and Twitter geo-tags

Grace Dent
Saturday 05 March 2016 00:47
Illustration by Ping Zhu
Illustration by Ping Zhu

My mother has never used the internet. Not once. Not ever. She is not available on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You cannot drop her a quick text. You can try, but the mobile phone that we – her children – thrust upon her, to use in case of emergency, lives in the glove compartment of her Volvo, next to a Daniel O'Donnell CD, its battery tepid. She has a BT landline with no answer machine and she moans that I'm never in touch. It makes me incandescent.

"You are 79 years old," I shouted at her the other week. "You're out in your car every day and you're only just over your cataract operation. Do you not think I worry?" It is part of the cycle of life that one day you will find yourself haranguing your OAP parents in exactly the same voice with which they once harangued you to remember your PE kit.

"If you don't switch on the phone, how can I keep track of where you are?" I shouted. "Well I'm either here or I'm in Morrisons," she said, pausing to think. "Or I'm down Aztec Soft Play with our Lola. Or I'm in Blackpool." She folded her arms to indicate her interest in the discussion ending. "What more," she said, "do you need to know?" And at this point, I gave up my lecture on safety, security and the innate usefulness of modern social media.

But why would anyone, she said, want to carry on like this in public? She spoke with some experience of public embarrassment. In 1957 she was photographed screaming outside a Frankie Vaughan concert, and the picture was published in the Cumberland News without her consent. My mother remains, to this day, completely livid about it.

My mother's off-line presence puts something of a distance between us. She comes from a time before Facebook check-ins and Twitter geo-tags. She has never known the glory of 386 new updates glowing on her WhatsApp icon. She's never hate-followed a frenemy on Instagram just for the sadistic drip-drip thrill. She's never ghosted a friend who is past their sell-by date. She's never trolled, then regretted trolling. She does not suffer power-noia or Tumblr-related FOMO. She is perfectly equipped, brainwise, to enter the 21st century, but she's had a think and she's not that fussed.

Besides, venturing forth would get in the way of her punishing schedule of watching episodes of Homes Under the Hammer, followed by a trip to Asda at 6pm to rifle through the Whoops! reductions on fresh cream cakes. Then there are her  weeks in Blackpool, playing dodge-the-mobility-scooter, which she books from the back of the local paper. No for my mother.

So there's no point in me littering social media on Mothering Sunday with photos of her cuddling me as a podgy two-year-old, as is the modern way. Mother's Day on Instagram is a new feast day for the gushingly sentimental and showy. A certain oneupmanship sets in by around 11am. You thought I was great, people seem to be saying, but wait, here's my mother! It's remarkable how many people's mothers – according to Instagram – were a heady mix of Germaine Greer, Mother Theresa and Delia Smith, or at the very least the local answer to Brigitte Bardot. I save my energies and my battery life. My mother wouldn't see the photos anyway.

And even if Margaret at No 22 – who has a Dell laptop in order to Skype her kids in Australia – showed my mother my Instagram love-fest, she would merely wonder why I'd put a photo of me and her at the 1975 Farnborough Airshow on to the World Wide Web for any old weirdo to gawp at. Face it, if you want to make women like my mother happy on Mother's Day, forget the internet. You get on a train. You leave your phone and your laptop behind. You show up and eat fruit scones with her in person. It's like a text message, but better.

As my life has gone fully digital and I've become welded to 4G and superfast wi-fi, my mother's demands have started to seem thoroughly unreasonable. She wants me to ring her on a landline at a prearranged time and spend 45 minutes chatting. What – on my blistering, important schedule? She wants me to schlep to a Clintons and find an actual birthday card with a "nice verse" in it, and then write inside the card – with a pen! – and then find a stamp and a postbox. What are we? Amish?

She wants me to either "be at work" or "not be at work", and she doesn't want me to be in a permanent hinterland replying to Twitter direct messages at quarter past midnight and again at 7.15 in the morning. She wants me to see the whites of my brothers' eyes and not just their updates on Facebook. She is unswerving in these opinions. She is the last standing guard of internet refuseniks. She annoys me, but I love her. And a quiet voice in my soul knows that she's right and that our real-life time is precious. I should send her a text and tell her this. If I'm lucky, she might read it by June.


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