How to get email without a computer
Here in Vegas, CES is overflowing with computing embedded in devices of every kind — cars, home appliances, booth girls (I’m assuming, anyway) — but one stand is touting a way to cut the computer out of your life, while still receiving email.
The Presto Printing Mailbox is the antithesis of Martha Lane Fox’s digital divide plans: it’s for people who simply can’t understand — or can’t be bothered to understand — how to get email off that infernal computing box.
It’s essentially a cut-down printer, made by HP, with its own email address. Send an email to the Presto’s inbox, and it reformats the message, stripping out the header details and reflowing the text and images into a nice, easy-to-read style.
It can also be setup to print news headlines, a photo of the day, Sudoku puzzles, comic strips, a collection of Andy Rooney columns (I’m not making that up) and reminder messages — basically, it’s the internet printed out on paper for tech-baffled seniors (and to be clear, I don’t think most seniors actually feel this way — my own remaining grandparent certainly doesn’t).
The Presto doesn’t even require a broadband connection; it will pick up messages over dial-up on a standard phone line five times a day
The Presto doesn’t even require a broadband connection; it will pick up messages over dial-up on a standard phone line five times a day. Only approved senders’ messages will get through, so your parents won’t be found buried under a pile of paper spam.
There’s no scanner or other method of input, so the device is useless for sending a reply — which may be a good thing for some. The company’s spokesman noted his firm’s research suggested people who don’t get — or like — PCs prefer to reply by phone, so the Presto is set up to print contacts’ phone numbers at the top of the sheet.
The most intriguing use of the Presto is sending automated reminders, such as for appointments or to take medications. However, it’s hardly telemedicine: there’s no way of knowing — short of a phone call — if your ancient, tech-fearing great-grandmother got the message and popped her pills as told.
Simplicity isn’t cheap: the device is $99, and the Presto service costs $14.99 a month — it might be cheaper and easier to set up a fax machine, although the photos wouldn’t come out so nicely.
Arguably, it’s time to stop assuming older folks are incapable of learning new tricks; email isn’t the hardest skill to learn, and touchscreen smartphones and tablets are designed to be intuitive to use.
However, Presto’s apparently proving popular, with sales of tens of thousands globally over the past few years — while such a device isn’t necessary for readers of this website for obvious reasons, some people will doubtless find a use for it. Indeed, Presto is starting to be sold in Best Buy stores in the US, and is also available over Amazon.
Despite such popularity, it’s hard not to find the marketing a bit sad. The brochure quotes Sherri, from Chicago, who says: “My mother LOVES it! She is 84, and has never touched a computer and has no interest in learning. She says that getting her Presto mail is like someone coming to her house for a visit.”
Sherri: go visit your mother. And, while you’re there, set up a Gmail account for her.