My Grandma Is a Meme | Translation

My Grandma Is a Meme | Translation


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Translated by MC Editorial

[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

A few months ago, our senior digital editor, Ana Pais, sent me a meme. You may have seen it. It’s a photo of an elderly lady. She has glasses and short, curly, blonde hair. She has a tablet and controls it with the index finger of her right hand. The expression on her face is somewhere between concentrated and smiling. It is a simple and nice photo. Ana will explain the rest of the meme: 

[Ana Pais]: At the top it says, “On Instagram seeing what they did last night.” 

[Daniel]: There are other versions too… 

[Ana]: In this one it says, “Me at 7 am answering all the messages on WhatsApp from the previous day because by 9 pm I’m already falling asleep.” 

[Daniel]: It’s fun, straightforward, easy to share, and a lot of people can relate to it—everything a meme needs to succeed on the internet. And it has happened. Versions of that meme can be found on Facebook, Twitter (now X), Instagram… Again and again it is shared on WhatsApp. It is one that you continue to see today, although it has existed as such for several years. An eternity in the world of digital jokes. What’s more, it is such a fun and charming photo that it goes beyond the joke. It has become a standard image of the techy grandmother.

[Ana]: The photo has been showing up for years in different media in the region, illustrating all kinds of articles about senior or retired persons. It is on Página/12 of Argentina, La Razón of Mexico, La República of Peru, El Español of Spain, the official website of the Mexican government, the website of the Consortium of State Universities of Chile, a home for senior citizens in Costa Rica…

[Daniel]: It has even appeared on online gaming sites like poker. It is clear that there is something about that photo that makes it almost universal. It is something strange that happens on the internet today, as if it were a big de-contextualizing machine. You go to your Instagram and see videos and images whose origins are impossible to trace, so much so that we don’t even wonder where they came from.

And the success of these images that go viral is due precisely to that: that the lady with the tablet, let’s say, could be my grandmother or yours. But no, we actually know whose grandmother she is. It’s Ana’s.  

[Ana]: Wow… it’s crazy to see her face in all those places.

[Daniel]: Imagine your grandmother’s face shared countless times on the internet, a fun place, yes, but also wild, sometimes cruel. Over and over again, shared and posted without your being able to do anything. Out of context. Your grandmother turned into dozens of anonymous, generic or made-up grandmothers. It is especially difficult for Ana to deal with all this, because, as you will see, you could say her grandmother became a meme because of her.

We’ll be back after a break. 

[Daniel]: We’re back. Ana Pais continues the story. 

[Ana]: My grandmother appears on the internet with many different names, but the real lady in the photo is called Ana María Rodríguez Fernández. Or, if you like, Bia, as we her grandchildren call her. Today she is 85 years old and, in many ways, Bia is the typical Latin American grandmother: she likes to entertain with food, she loves family time and enjoys a bit of showbiz gossip. But there is something very particular that makes her break the stereotypes. Let’s see whether you can detect it.

[Ana María Rodríguez Fernández, Bia]: I get up, I prepare my mate, I have breakfast while listening to music or playing with the tablet…

[Ana]: She plays on the tablet. Or tablets, I should say, because she has three. And two cell phones. It may seem excessive to you, but not to a gamer like Bia. 

[Bia]: While one tablet is plugged in, I pick up the one with all the lives and sometimes I win a prize and they give me two hours of free play. So I keep playing and it’s like an addiction, too, because, since I have two hours to play and I don’t run out of lives, I keep going and I get hooked, and I keep going, and going, and I want to win. And when I lose, I say, “How dumb, how could I lose in this?” And I keep on pushing to see whether I make it, and when I do, and move on to another level, I say, “Well done! Thank you, God!” I say, “Thank you, God,” ha ha!

[Ana]: This passion began 15 years ago when my brothers and my cousin gave her a tablet. The tablet, I should say, because it’s the white one in the photo.

We have quite unclear and even conflicting memories of why we chose that gift. My theory is that we couldn’t think of anything she needed, so we decided to buy something that she didn’t have and that was also within the budget that we had set for ourselves to celebrate her 70th birthday.

Bia had never had a computer, and at the time, she wouldn’t even hear of smartphones. So we didn’t have much hope for the tablet. If she used it, fine; and if not, that was fine, too.

Bia confesses that she wasn’t very confident about learning how to use that new device, either. 

[Bia]: I said, “Oh, how I’m going to have to bother them to teach me!” Because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to learn a thing. And at first I said, “Well, I don’t think it’s necessary,” but I got used to it and I found my way, and I answered emails and received some emails, and I got used to it. And now I have to have the tablet or cell phone with me every day.

[Ana]: After getting a taste for the tablet, she joined the world of smartphones. Each device had its learning curve. In fact, every time you buy or are given a new device, you have to relearn things, as do we all.

For example, on her first cell phone, which was one of those earlier ones, the ones without internet access, she had me registered as “Ana,” so I was first in her contact book. So she often made mistakes and sent me messages that she intended to send to other people. I told her several times until she learned. Back then, she also signed her messages. 

[Bia]: I used to say, “Hello, it’s Ana and I need this, that, and the other.” No. Not anymore; I have moved on. At 84 years old, I have moved forward.

[Ana]: All of us in the family  would explain the basics to her and she kept on assimilating it. But most of it she learned on her own, by “trial and error,” as she herself says. And when all else failed, to this day Bia applies an infallible trick with her tablet. 

[Bia]: Turn it off and turn it on again, ha ha ha. Let’s see whether it reboots at zero.

[Ana]: I think her lack of fear was key to her learning. She wasn’t afraid to ask for help, she wasn’t afraid of making mistakes, and she also didn’t have that fear of the new, of breaking that unknown device by fiddling with it so much. In fact, she didn’t: The first tablet we gave her crashed just a week before I interviewed her. That means she used it every day for 15 years.

[Bia]: I don’t know what happened to it. It went “click” and that was it. I couldn’t turn it back on. I get a series of numbers and I was told that I would have to open it, take out the chip, put it back in, and I’m not going to get involved with that because I’m sure I’ll take it out and have a piece left over. So I left that one there, to see whether one of our grandchildren offers to help…

[Ana]: I didn’t look at it, honestly, but I don’t think it can be fixed. Furthermore, all those years of usage is almost a record for a mobile device. The thing is Bia became very skilled with her tablet. She learned to send emails, to subscribe and read newsletters, to watch movies. In addition, she started doing what we all do when we have a new device: we download applications and try to see whether we like them. She became curious about games. 

[Bia]: First I downloaded some animal games that I didn’t understand at all. I say, “But this is crazy; I don’t understand a thing!” And I started with one, then another and I looked for the ones that I liked the most, because there is an incredible amount now. It’s impressive.

[Ana]: That’s how she discovered her favorite video game to this day: Candy Crush.

[Bia]: I downloaded Candy Crush two years after having the tablet. I started to try one and I liked it, and I continued, and as I went through levels, I said, “Well, I like it.”

[Ana]: For those of you who don’t know it, Candy Crush is what is known as a puzzle or logic game and it begins with the screen full of colored candies. The player has to align three or more identical candies horizontally or vertically for them to explode and disappear. It is very addictive: millions of people around the world know it. And Bia does too.

When I interviewed her, she had two versions of Candy Crush installed on each of the two tablets that were still working. In the game that was most advanced, she was at level 2,599. But on the original tablet, the one that died, is where she had her highest personal record: she was close to level 3,000.

In addition to all this, on her old cell phone, she also has two versions of Candy Crush installed. The broken screen doesn’t stop her; neither do injuries.

[Bia]: And I have to put a bandage on my wrist because I get cramps. Yes, I get tendinitis, since the tablet gets heavy when you hold it for a long time. After two hours holding the tablet in your hand, it becomes heavy.

[Ana]: Bia has a method to ensure continuous hours of play: she alternates between all of these devices and versions, depending on which device has enough battery and which has free play time enabled.

On the new cell phone, which she has had for a year, she says that she didn’t download Candy Crush so as not to “overload it.” The only game she has is Solitaire – and I quote – “to pass the time.” There it is not a competition to the death like it is with the candies. For example, Candy Crush shows you when one of your friends in the game has reached a higher level than you. 

[Bia]: And it said, “Someone else surpassed you,” and that made me angry; I don’t like it happening to me. Then I keep playing more, to see whether I can get back to first place and win some prize. So, that’s all the happiness: that I can depend only on myself.

[Ana]: That, for someone who has lived her entire life serving others, is a lot. 

 Bia was born on September 10, 1938 in Montevideo, Uruguay. She married at 20 years old. Nine months later, she had my mother. Three years later, my aunt was born. Bia became a widow at the age of 57, and shortly after, she moved out and took her parents to live with her. She took care of them until they both died.

It was in that house where I interviewed her. Surely in the background you have heard Tilo, the neighbor’s dog. My grandmother occasionally yells at him to shut up, but clearly, during the interview he didn’t pay attention. 

[Bia]: I have always dedicated myself to my family and I don’t regret anything. At all. I would do everything I did in my life again: always dedicated to my home. I believe that I was born with a vocation to serve.

[Ana]: Bia has told me this several times. But before being a housewife, she had another vocation: that of a pianist.

She started playing when she was very young, at 8 years old. 

[Bia]: At the age of ten I was already a solfège teacher and then I continued. At 14, I think, I don’t remember that well, I graduated as a piano teacher. I liked it so much that later I continued teaching. But it turns out that I had a daughter, I had two daughters, and I had to stop. You’re not recording, are you? 

[Ana]: Yes… 

[Bia]: Oh, yes, that’s how you are recording. Sorry.

[Ana]: [Laughs] Oh no, what you’re saying is really good…

I don’t know why she interrupted her own story here. I didn’t ask her. It just made me laugh that she did it. But later, when I listened to the recording, I realized that she had cut right at the moment when she was talking about her musical vocation and how she abandoned it because the priority was her daughters, her husband, the harmony of the home and the housework. She cut off the story as if now, once again, there were things more important talking than her passion for the piano.

In fact, this is perhaps the ultimate example of the things Bia has given up in her life. Everything she did, she did for the love of others, even if it hurt her.

[Bia]: It is a chain; it is a chain of love and example and sacrifice. I get emotional, because it’s tough. It is tough to raise children and grandchildren, in my case. 

[Ana]: My grandmother doesn’t usually cry. In a family full of crybabies, she brags a little about being the exception. But this time, talking about family, about what she sacrificed for us, she didn’t hold back.

[Bia]: And little by little you are left alone. And I think, sometimes: it has been 28 years since my husband died. He went to work and didn’t come back. So, the whole family structure changed… my structure changed, of course. But it was hard, but well, I had very good moments and I began to laugh again with my grandchildren, with my daughters, at meetings, and giving and giving a lot of love. I am convinced that the only worthy thing is to give love and allow people freedom of action.

[Ana]: My grandfather, Tatita, died of a heart attack when I was 10 years old. I felt his absence in my family. He was our patriarch. But I was also very aware of how that grandmother who lived in the kitchen began to occupy a different place little by little. She became a fun, even a little eccentric person, wearing glittery clothes and feathered hats. She kept on breaking chains in every aspect of her life. 

[Bia]: Suddenly I’m zapping and there’s something that interests me and I leave it and continue watching it. Sometimes I catch films that are almost done and I watch them anyway at the end… absolutely free. I feel, at this moment, I feel completely free. I do whatever I want.

[Ana]: There is no way to prove it, but I think that if my grandfather were still alive, Bia would never have dared to venture into technology, much less let herself be carried away by it like that. A decades-old addiction may serve as a hint. 

[Bia]: I was a smoker. My husband was a heavy smoker. He stopped smoking and I continued smoking. Then he asked me the favor, because he was going crazy not being able to smoke and I was smoking next to him. I stopped smoking. To this day, when I smell a cigarette, I like it… addicted for life. So I think if I picked up drugs, I would get high easily. I have an addictive personality.

[Ana]: Sometimes Bia is playing Candy Crush, even if she’s got things to do, and wins a few minutes or even hours of play and decides not to go out or arrive late. The tendinitis that she has had for more than a decade due to the tablet does not stop her either. I ask her, then, what happens to her when she finally runs out of lives. 

[Bia]: I get angry, ha ha ha! I get angry, I say some nonsense and I wait, I plug the charger… That’s when I go out, see? Then I go out, I go to the street, I run some errand, I come back, and when I come back, one of them is fully charged.

[Ana]: Bia was already a tech expert when in June 2014 then presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez gave a speech with the 10 key promises for his second term. In point three he said:

[Archive soundbite]

[Tabaré Vázquez]: We will promote the digital inclusion of all citizens, among other tools, with the delivery of a free tablet to each retiree of the Banco de Previsión Social.

[Ana]: Indeed, one of his campaign promises was to give a tablet to each retiree of the Uruguayan state social security institute. That day, Vázquez mentioned for the first time what later, when he was elected president again, became the Ibirapitá Plan: a digital inclusion program for senior adults that began in 2015 and is still in force, although since 2022 they stopped delivering tablets and today they give away cell phones.

In 2014, when the announcement was made, I worked at the Uruguayan newspaper El Observador, and I was the creator and editor of Cromo, the first and then only media outlet specialized in science and technology in Uruguay. Vázquez had prioritized technology and it was evident that we had to do something with that campaign promise of delivering tablets to older adults. And I had the perfect interviewee: Bia, my tech grandmother.

The topic was so important that that same week I went to my grandmother’s house that same week with a team that included a text journalist, a video journalist, and a photographer. A huge deployment of resources for Bia. On that occasion, I didn’t go to interview her, but to accompany her, so that she felt comfortable. 

[Bia]: It was like a meeting of friends, because we all chatted together. It was a great thing.

[Ana]: The difference was that at this gathering of friends she had to show her skills with the tablet for two cameras: the photo camera and the video camera.

The main photo of the report was taken by photojournalist Diego Battiste and shows Bia, wearing glasses, handling her white tablet… I mean, that is the photo. The viral one. So this is also the beginning of the guilt trip… of my guilt trip.

The image appeared on the cover of the Cromo supplement, where it was published as part of a report on technological inclusion of older adults. It was also the cover image of a video more focused on my grandmother’s experience with technology. Both were published in June 2014.

For a few days in my family’s WhatsApp group, we joked that Bia was a celebrity. But, as happens with these things, after those 5 minutes of fame, the topic was no longer mentioned. Life went on.

A few months later, eight, maybe ten, something very strange happened. 

[Bia]: I went to the social club, to the pool, as I always went to do hydro-gymnastics. And there was a large group of us and there were younger girls. And one of the young girls tells me, “You’re on YouTube and it says that you earn 1,000 dollars a day.” And wow, I wish it were true, but it’s not.

[Daniel]: Bia’s skills gave her worldwide exposure that she did not seek and that, since then, has been impossible to stop. We’ll be back after a break. 

[Daniel]: We are back with Radio Ambulante. Ana Pais continues the story. 

[Ana]: Unlike my grandmother, I don’t quite remember how or when I found out that her photo had been stolen and was circulating on internet sites that had nothing to do with El Observador. What I do remember is the anger and guilt I felt. The photo was being used to feed that dark machinery of misinformation and, surely, online scams.

Initially, Bia appeared on the ads that one usually sees, for example, on news sites, both at the bottom of the text and to the side. They are advertising spaces but they pretend to be other news that could interest you. In general, they have a slightly different design from the rest of the page and shocking titles to attract clicks.

From what I remember, sometimes Bia was the bait. She appeared, for example, as the grandmother who won thousands of dollars by betting online. So, if you clicked on the supposed news, it took you to a poker site. But other times they even went to the trouble of writing an entire story because what they were monetizing was your presence and retention while you read all that fake text.

As soon as I found out what was happening, I went to speak with Diego, the photographer, and with several heads of El Observador, both from the editorial area and from the business side. But they all gave me the same answer: that unfortunately it is normal for people to take a photo from a newspaper and publish it on other sites or on social media, and that it is just impossible to stop.

And it’s true. How many times do we see and share on social media a spectacular photo of a soccer player scoring a great goal or of a singer in the middle of a concert and we have no idea who took it? The difference is that my grandmother’s photo had not only been stolen, but it was also being taken out of context.

From the beginning it made me very uncomfortable to see what people were doing with the photo. Until a few years ago, I couldn’t even stand it when people mentioned the topic to me, much less when they sent me links or screenshots of Bia around the world. Only now, almost a decade later and because of this story, I decided to look for it. 

[Ana]: The time has come… argh… 

What I am doing is a reverse search. That’s when you upload an image, select an area within that image (in this case, I am going to select the entire photo), and what Google does is look for websites that have that photo, where the photo has been uploaded.

The most abundant are not scam or misinformation sites. Most are media outlets that use the photo as if it were part of an image bank, that is, those generic stock photos that serve to illustrate a concept, in this case: technological older adults. That’s how I found Bia on the news sites I mentioned at the beginning and other sites. I was able to count more than 50 outlets from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Spain and even Switzerland.

Some of these articles are from only a few months ago and appear in various media more than once, probably because the photo entered their archives without any clarification or context. Then years pass and one day, a journalist, photographer or designer assumes that it can be used, that they have the rights, and that’s it: they use it in their article. A quick solution.

Diego admitted to me, with great embarrassment, that he promoted his services as a photographer using, among others, the image of my grandmother. But the truth is that it didn’t bother me: it’s a photo he took, and he shows it in a controlled context.

I can even understand that a media outlet or a government is using Bia’s image without knowing that she is not a model and that the photo actually has credits. What I do find outrageous is that my grandmother’s face is usted to lie. I kept googling and found this:

It’s an article that says, “Rosy Durán, the cosplayer granny, a real-life warrior,” with my grandmother’s photo. I mean, now it’s Rosy Durán, Mexican. At 62 years old, Rosy Durán is, in addition to being a mother, a housewife and a volunteer at a home for the elderly, a passionate cosplayer, a world in which she is known as the costumed granny, thanks to her impersonation of Princess Leia.

The note continues talking about this lady who does exist, but obviously she does not have my grandmother’s face. Bia is also the face of Masako Wakamiya, an 82-year-old app developer who works for Apple. And she is also Trina Lazarus, an 82-year-old Englishwoman who got tired of her grandson’s singlehood and created a profile for him on the dating app Tinder, where she calls him messy and lazy. There, in the photo credit, for example, they had the nerve to put, “courtesy of,” as if my grandmother had given them the photo. In another site where the author of the article tells the anecdote of a grandmother asking for a smartphone, the photo says, “Private file.” It’s like they are completely used to lying. This site is also one of the first results that Google shows when you type “smartphone grandma” in the image search engine. And it appears with my grandmother’s photo, of course.

And I say, once again: only now, writing this story, do I feel able to delve into all this. I’m sure seeing your own grandmother next to a fake headline has to be shocking for anyone. But in my case, as a journalist, it is worse: every day, in my work, I face the harmful repercussions that misinformation brings. All of this even has an aggravating factor, because I was the journalist who promoted the report where that photo was taken. It’s too perverse.

In our family, we tried not to show Bia many of the images that we were seeing and that our respective friends were sending us. But, of course, she has her own contacts, who got surprised and contacted her when they saw her in some strange place.

Bia didn’t like that her photo was stolen either.

[Bia]: It made no sense, but it was everywhere. And, well, then came the comments about the things they saw and they told me, “Vieja Pituca.”

[Ana], “Pituca,” a derogatory term used to describe upper-class people.

[Bia]: They called me all sorts of things! And I say, “What do I have to do with this?” I can’t do a thing. This thing about social networks is tremendous. I think that’s what stops me from opening up more to the social networks, because I don’t like them making comments about what I’m not.

[Ana]: Bia couldn’t quite explain to me where exactly she saw those most insulting comments, but she is very aware that she read them and that they hurt her. 

[Bia]: People are sometimes very criticized and very critical. They pay attention to what others do. I hate that.

[Ana]: Since my grandfather died, Bia has actively sought not to depend on anyone. She does it on a logistical level with her house, but also on a social and emotional level, even going so far as to find ways of entertainment with exploding digital candy. But, as she became a viral phenomenon, Bia lost control of her own face. And having something like that happen to you has to be overwhelming.

At least, since she does not have social media and the photo was never associated with her first and last name, she was able to avoid the darkest part of the viral effect, such as people googling her to directly send her insulting comments, or suffering from some online scam, such as identity theft.

There are many people on the internet who want to go viral and do everything to achieve it. Then there are those who become famous involuntarily, people whose lives changed without seeking it. For better or for worse.

Many may remember the restoration of the Ecce Homo painting in the Borja church in Spain. 

[Archive soundbite]

[Presenter]: A neighbor from this small town in Zaragoza decided that the piece of art needed a touch-up, and it got out of hand. 

[Ana]: An 81-year-old woman who had good intentions… 

[Archive soundbite]

[Cecilia Giménez]: I started to fix it, but then I went on a trip and I said, “When I return, I’ll finish it…” I came back and all the fuss had already started. 

[Ana]: The news went viral around the world and became the joke of the moment. They laughed at the painting, yes, which they began to call Ecce Mono, but they also laughed at her:

[Cecilia G.]: I’ve gotten very upset from this… It has been such a big thing, so big that I can’t handle it. 

[Ana]: I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have the eyes of the world on you.

[Cecilia G.]: It’s gotten to the point where I can’t take it anymore!

[Ana]: But there are also people who turn it around and benefit from it.

[Germán Rodezel]: Well, lately I have seen that they have been making quite a few memes of me. There is everything: all kinds of content, and there are several that I would like to have never seen in my life.

[Ana]: This is Germán Rodezel, a Costa Rican YouTuber. That fragment is from a video that he published in 2020. He has more than two million subscribers on his channel.

[Rodezel]: I can already bet that there are going to be memes with my photo from 2013 because I really don’t understand why they don’t let it go.

[Ana]: He refers to a photo of him in high school. With glasses, braces. The stereotypical image of a nerd. He’s even smiling in a not-so-flattering way. It is a photo that more than one would like to keep secret, but that his followers continue to bring up over and over again. 

[Rodezel]: I think that if I disappear from the face of the Earth now, nothing would happen because this photo from 2013 already exists, and even if it is just a photo, it is all that people care about. I believe that my work in this world has already been done: my goal, my legacy, there it is. 

[Ana]: He had to decide between trying to forget everything and not paying attention to it or, as they say, become the meme, accept it, and, why not?, profit from it. He chose the latter. Rodezel turned his photo into a business, with several videos on the subject, with advertisements and sponsors.

And fame has many nuances.

We don’t think about it all the time, I guess because it’s so disturbing, but every time we upload something to the internet, we run the risk of losing control over that content. And it is even more disturbing because we live in a time when our lives are encouraged to be digital: social media, video calls, emails… It means being exposed at every moment.

Yes, some countries have implemented personal data protection laws or the right to be forgotten. The latter, which exists in places like the European Union, allows people who live there to ask search engines like Google to omit certain pages where they are mentioned.

They can allege different reasons, such as that the information published is inaccurate or inadequate, something that then goes through an entire evaluation process. But even when the system works and the right to be forgotten is implemented, what one ensures is that, when googling from the country where the law exists, those reported sites do not appear in the search. But it doesn’t disappear from the internet. For that to happen, you have to go one by one asking or suing each page that published the information.

In Bia’s case, the photo is protected by copyright and perhaps she could sue for defamation. But none of that would stop the photo from circulating or from being deleted from all the places where it is published or stored throughout the world.

I think the most shocking thing is that what happened to Bia is not even special because it was in a newspaper. It can happen to anyone that they publish a cute photo of their baby for the hundred relatives and friends who follow them on Instagram and it ends up going viral for no apparent reason. The internet is like an unstoppable force, where, although the services we use tell us otherwise, we really have no control.

The scar that this whole incident with my grandmother left on me is so deep that I have never published a single photo with the faces of my 5- and 3-year-old children on any social network. I don’t allow others to do it either. I have even asked friends to delete photos and even at school they know that we do not authorize the use of their images.

It’s hard to go against the current in this culture of sharing and sharing. Several people have told me that I am exaggerating. But hey, none of them have a family member who went viral.

Not everything linked to Bia’s going viral has been dark. I must admit that the meme aspect of it always amused me. And it amused her as well.

[Bia]: Oh, well, that I like because I try to be a nice grandmother. I like being a grandmother and I like being a great-grandmother too.

[Ana]: Yes, I always joke telling you that you should be an influencer: influencer grandma.

[Bia]: No, I do not think so. I don’t think I could, because I get crazy and say things I shouldn’t. I would be a kind of gangster. I would be, yes, I would be brave.

[Ana]: Grandma influencer gangster: the internet would really love her. Well, they do love her. But the people who use and share her photo don’t know how cool that tablet lady is. That is why, perhaps, the viralization surprised us all so much.  

[Bia]: I never thought anyone would notice that photo. I was very proud when they wrote the article and I saw myself, but in reality I never imagined that it could serve other purposes.

[Ana]: It never crossed my mind that something like this could happen either.

For years, I avoided that topic with her until last year, when, without planning it, I apologized to her. That day, we were having a phone conversation similar to the one about “Bia influencer” from a few minutes ago: basically she said something funny, I told her that she would succeed on social media, and she responded that it is not something she would like. So there, without thinking much, I confessed that I felt super guilty about everything that had happened because of the interview with El Observador. And I asked for forgiveness. She immediately told me not to worry, that it wasn’t that serious. And I left it there. We were on the phone, and since I was crying but didn’t want her to notice, I just kept quiet.

Crying. Yes. Some will wonder why, if, as Bia told me, it wasn’t that serious, something that, furthermore, I couldn’t control. But, of course, I don’t feel that way. It’s hard to see someone you love being vulnerable. Even if it is not a physical vulnerability, it hurts… It hurts to know that a person who was only doing a favor, out of good will, is circulating around in one of the most hostile environments we know: the internet. She just doesn’t deserve it.

Now, sitting face to face, I asked her: 

[Ana]: And did you ever regret giving the interview?

[Bia]: No never. Not at all. I’m not worried at all because I never lost sleep because of it. I was sure I had never done anything wrong. If they give it a bad use, that is a different thing. The problem lies with those who use it incorrectly. But it didn’t bother me at all, nor does it bother me now. Unless, as I told you, they come to arrest me for something I didn’t do. I don’t sell drugs, I don’t do anything, ha ha ha!

[Ana]: And how did you feel when I apologized for exposing you?

[Bia]: I felt bad. I felt bad because it was not necessary to apologize. You didn’t do it with that purpose. It was something that got out of everyone’s hands. Someone else wanted it to do something different. And well, that’s it. No problem. That’s life.

[Ana]: I would have liked to talk about this sooner. Sitting down to talk about what we felt at that moment brought us  even closer. It was a conscious act of showing that we care for each other, even if the internet may have had other plans.

I have been feeling unnecessary guilt for almost 10 years, for something that for my grandmother is minor. Maybe it’s time to let go. So, if one of these days I run into her again on some site or social network, I will no longer feel ashamed. I’ll be able to see her and smile knowing that Bia is so special that it only took a small dose of her to make the internet fall in love with her.

[Daniel]: Bia still lives in the house of the famous photo. At the time this episode came out, she was already on level 2,701 of Candy Crush.

Ana Pais is Senior Digital Editor at Radio Ambulante. She lives in Montevideo. This story was edited by Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas and me. The fact-checking is by Bruno Scelza, who also supported the production. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri with music by Rémy Lozano.

Thanks to Diego Battiste.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Adriana Bernal, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Natalia Sánchez Loayza, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Ana Tuirán and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO. 

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program. 

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.




Ana Pais

Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas y Daniel Alarcón

Bruno Scelza

Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano

Rémy Lozano

Andrés Alberto


Episode 20