Send email to the computer-averse with Celery

Celery is a fax machine that can receive and send email.

It’s designed to make life easy for older folks who don’t wish to fiddle around with computers: at the recipient’s end, the machine is set up once, then simply prints out emails and photos sent to it. To reply, granny just writes a normal letter in response and feeds it in, printing the name of the recipient at the top so that the machine can figure out who to email it to.

“Even if most of your readers think its a stupid idea, I can assure you one thing, if they gift one of these to Grandma, they’ll never need to find stamps and mail a letter ever again,” inventor Neil Grabowsky writes in.

I feel vaguely as if we’re still trying to get the 1990s right, here, but if it works, it works, right?

Product Page [MyCelery]

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at besc...@gmail.com

 

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18 Responses to Send email to the computer-averse with Celery

  1. Anonymous says:

    Basically good idea but look at the interface! Even if those buttons are only needed for setup they should be hidden. No tech-phobic is going to near that thing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My grandma is 89 and can e-mail and use her laptop. Screw e-mail, most of her friends want to google.

  3. airship says:

    At work our all-in-one printer/scanner/copiers can work as scanners, but they can’t be used over the network. They’ll scan stuff and email it to you. Very strange.

  4. auntruth says:

    My mom, who just died at 95, was a happy user of a competing product/service for the last year of her life — the Presto email appliance (http://presto.com/) She was smart and alert, but her comfort with technology peaked with push-button phones and microwave ovens. I’ve recced the Presto to anyone whose parent is unable or unwilling to figure out email, or who needs a $200 solution.

    I can testify that Yahoo mail really *is* too complex for some individuals to use independently. In his 80′s, my dad loved games and spent hours at his computer — but I was never able to find an interface clean enough to allow him to master simple email. There’s an amazing amount of CLUTTER on screens we think of as “simple”… if you’ve got a touch of dementia that makes it hard to prioritize, and makes you pay equal attention to every word on the screen.

    The Presto appliance ($99 street price) is a simple HP color inkjet with a phone connection and three buttons. The giver subscribes to the service for $99/year and controls the setup at a website; the interface tells you when ink or paper is low, or if the machine is unplugged or hasn’t called in on time. You whitelist only the senders you want; the user doesn’t see confusing headers, just the sender’s name and phone and the subject line presented as a headline. Attached photos print automatically at the bottom of the message. There are several nice touches in the design of the service and controls. The font sizes go up 16 pt. The giver sets the print size (up to 16 pt text) and the dial-in schedule (up to 5 times a day.

    I had the Presto shipped to the nursing home, and all I needed was a local friend who unpacked it, plugged it in, and occasionally added paper. All Mom had to do was take the prints out of the tray and read them. The machine worried her for a few days, and then she LOVED it. She couldn’t send, of course, but she called me and chatted away, or told me what she was worried about; I emailed back my responses since she couldn’t hear a word over the phone.

    She asked for a three-hole punch and kept a binder of all her messages, which she read over and over.

    If you’ve got elderly (or cognitively-impaired) loved ones who need something simpler or cheaper than email, check it out. If they’re too deaf for phone calls and not email-savvy, it’s a Godsend.

  5. Alan says:

    My wife’s grandmother loved email; it was how she kept up with everyone, and she used it until she died at the age of 87. She never even touched a computer until she was 80. My own grandmother has been using email for a while, and she’s 81.

    What I want to know is how is something that is going to need ink cartridge changes and will have paper jams, or reads a name wrong and sends the email complaining about how Johnny is a rat bastard to Johnny, is better than a cheap laptop and a Yahoo account?

    I think it’s time we start treating older people like the adults they are and less like toddlers.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Many enterprise printer/copier/scanner/fax units can send to email and can even receive a fax and send it to a pre-configured email address or FTP server as an image instead on printing it. Very useful for business that work with a lot of important paper documents or who have clients who do so.

  7. david_brown says:

    Rob, thank you for the post. I work with Celery Customer Support and wanted to share my thoughts.

    First, spam does not reach our users. We use several spam filtering techniques, one option of which is a user whitelist. This means a user will only receive messages from people listed in their address book. No spam, guaranteed.

    Celery is not a replacement for holiday cards or phone calls. Celery allows your non computer using relatives to be included in the email communication that’s happening without them. And sure… I could get grandma a computer and email address, but she doesn’t want that. My grandma wants the messages without the hassle. Yes she could learn it but she doesn’t want to… and now she doesn’t have to. If you don’t believe me just ask your own computerless parent or grandparent if they would use computerless email.

    As for paper jams and ink replacement, neither is a problem. The paper does sometimes jam and when it does our friendly support staff helps grandma clear it. It’s really not hard, after all, it’s a fax machine, not a computer . And, just like her TV remote, my grandma ignores all of the extra buttons except the ones she needs. In Celery’s case, the two buttons she needs have huge green stickers pointing at them. Ink is also a snap… literally. It snaps in. Haven’t had a user fail replacing a cartridge yet. Not to mention, with high yield cartridges most of our users can go a year or more without needing a new one.

    Lastly, when grandma sends a message she just hand writes, “Dear Samantha,” at the top of her page. Our system sees the salutation, “Dear,” and knows what comes next is the recipient’s name. If grandma goes on to write “Jill came over for lunch today…” it’s fine because that’s on the next line. No messages headed to the wrong address.

  8. Luc says:

    ‘Mom enjoys Aimee’s email and photo without having to learn anything new.’

    That is so sad.

  9. bibulb says:

    Hell, I’m tempted to buy one for one of my coworkers. The idjit (with his own computer) walks things over to me to email, I suppose because Outlook is a dark and frightening unknown.

    (I mean, it IS, but not in the way he thinks it is.)

    If I could hand him something he could just slap a PO on to email it to alleviate some of his assumed helplessness, I’d really be tempted…

  10. hohum says:

    My 91 year old grandma uses her computer and (ick) AOL email just fine. She doesn’t remember too well how to do it so she wrote herself instructions which she follows, and she loves it.

    Re: David, “Just like her TV remote, my grandma ignores all of the extra buttons except the ones she needs.” That’s all fine and dandy until she accidentally hits one…

    Not saying there’s no place for this product, just my 2 cents/2 thoughts..

  11. David Bruce Murray says:

    My parents, now age 70, got their first computer a couple of years ago. They both use it daily for email, web surfing, etc.

    It appears that MyCelery is really a service more than a certain device. Their website says any fax machine will do…with or without “B” and “C” buttons, one would presume. Why did they use those two arbitrary letters rather than, say, Scan and Send???

    The device shown in the video is a custom marked Lexmark AIO which they sell for $89.

    I could see people buying and using Celery, but if Granny has a fax machine, couldn’t Aimee just…I don’t know…send her a fax??? Then couldn’t Granny simply reply with a fax of her own? It really isn’t THAT difficult to send an email to a fax machine, is it? I used Callwave for that years ago when all I had was a dial up account and just one phone line.

    Celery’s $14/month pricing for color is a bit on the high side when you consider that:
    1. Email can be sent directly to fax machines, and
    2. A monthly dial up account for internet typically goes for less than $10 these days.

    The ease of use presumes someone is going to set up the service for Granny. Does Celery’s friendly support staff do that? Via phone, I would hope, but no, it looks like the Celery website wants someone to log in and manage it there. If you have to go to a website to set up the account, that defeats the whole point of using this service without computer access.

    In response to David Brown: I’ve yet to see an ink cartridge that would reliably deliver ink after being opened and installed in a printer for a year. Even name brand ink with dry out after that period of time, whether or not there was enough ink usage to deplete the supply.

  12. Anonymous says:

    David (#9), Thanks for stopping by to clarify!

    While this might not be the perfect solution for everyone (does that exist? I’ll take a dozen!), there’s merit here. If the handwriting recognition is spot-on (that is, better than any I’ve experienced) this could be a good setup. Or, if “Granny’s” handwriting isn’t so consistent, there’s nothing stopping you from printing a big batch of “Dear Sonny Boy” letterhead for her.

    Although, David (#13) makes me wonder — is this more for grannies who are afraid of computers or sonny boys who are afraid of fax machines? This looks more like a paper-to-[iPhone|Blackberry|Gmail|.*] translator to me than a value-added fax machine. You could use a cheapie fax machine and eFax for the same thing?

    The merit of a subscription service would be a knowledgeable, patient staff. That’s what Celery seems to be selling.

    (Please swap in correct genders where appropriate.)

  13. Anonymous says:

    The Celery Computerless Email Printer is a great gift idea for older individuals who would like to communicate via email and are uncomfortable with computer technology. The interface is simple to operate and allows you to instantly share handwritten emails, digital photos, and other printable documents with loved ones! For more information and to purchase the Celery Computerless Email Printer please visit http://www.activeforever.com and search “celery”.

  14. Chocklit says:

    Some elderly people seem to embrace new technology, while others don’t. I have been trying to get my mother to use the computer for years. We patiently show her what to do, but she cannot seem to remember. My dad uses the computer to check his stock market reports and sends the occasional email with great difficulty. Celery would be ideal for them.

  15. Jake0748 says:

    Celery? Why not carrot or zucchini?

  16. guy_jin says:

    I know several people who would be interested in this sort of thing. Unfortunately, they’d probably drop it like a hot steaming turd as soon as they got their first “fr33 h3rb@l V1@GR@!!!!!” fax.

  17. Jane Kansas says:

    Meh. Granny would still rather have a card or at least a phone call.

  18. SamF says:

    It’s all good until the paper jams and then she’ll be in the back yard smashing it with a baseball bat to “Still” by the Geto Boys.

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