“I’m sorry I didn’t answer your email sooner. I had to wait until my daughter fixed my computer.”
“My son in Boston can fix my computer whenever I have a problem. He has some way of getting into it from his computer.”
“My kids gave me an iPad and I am struggling. I don’t need all this aggravation.”
These are a few quotes from conversations that go on all the time at my senior living residence. We try, but it is hard. My sister-in-law’s email signature reads, “sent from my iPad—that makes me tech savvy”.
Most of us know we have to become tech literate, but it is challenging.
Fortunately, there are friends, family and pros who are trying their best to bring us up to speed. But it makes no difference; the more you can do leads to the wish to do more. Currently I am struggling with ‘screen shots’ and am waiting until my 18-year-old grandson can find some time to stop by. Or I can go to him, as my computer, iPad and iPhone are portable. I think if I knew a 10-year- old, she too could probably show me what to do. It isn’t only us older folks who have trouble. Our middle-age kids turn to their kids for help, too.
Our community is doing what it can to help us. A few residents who are tech-skilled have formed a Geek Squad and volunteer to respond to SOS computer calls. The county library offers the service of a staff expert to spend two hours a week helping residents in our computer room. Additionally, an iPad-skilled staff employee is available monthly for an hour-long question session.
Some 70-, 80-, 90-year-olds say, “This isn’t for me.” They have decided to not pressure themselves on this new technology. Perhaps they have made the right choice. I am surprised how many of my age-mates only use email and don’t own a printer.
Certainly, the computer is a significant challenge, but even the advanced technology offered by our old standby land-line telephones, TVs and cars can cause us older ones to give up and spend the rest of the day with a stress headache.
A problem—and an answer
Ideally, when one faces a problem, one tries to find an answer. If the problem is “How can older folks become more tech proficient,” is there an answer?
My answer is that we have to keep working on our competency. I have a sister living in Connecticut. She and her husband do not own a computer. When I ask her about this decision, her answer is, “The time it would take me to master and then continue mastering the necessary skills can be used in a better way.” She is an artist and spends a great deal of time in her studio. Maybe she is right; I don’t know. All I know is that I find it a chore to write her a letter. Most of my staying in touch with lifelong friends and relatives who live all over the world is through email and Facebook. With my sister, an informal chat means writing a letter, which neither of us does very often.
I shared the topic of this article with a new friend. She is a pretty sharp lady. This is her story. “I was writing my play on my old, electric IBM typewriter when my son arrived and began scolding me for not using the computer. Later in his visit he hid my trusty typewriter in an attempt to force me to use the computer. I told him I was happy the way things were and he should stay out of my business.” She continued, “My friends call me all the time for phone numbers. I keep them in my old fashioned address book. They have switched to all the new high-tech things and they are always losing numbers. I think what I am doing is just fine.”
A challenge worth facing
Despite the challenges involved in learning new skills in later life, I find it is well worth it. After many years on a PC, I needed a new computer. I chose to buy an Apple this time, well knowing the challenges in learning a new operating system. And it has been very difficult and has required a lot of discipline on my part as well as time. I justify my effort by believing that all this required brainpower is helping me keep dementia at bay. And the other reasons for switching to Apple include the beauty of the instrument, the lack of virus risk and the sensible way of operation (once it is mastered), as well as the help offered with a membership in One to One at the Apple store.
Just as today we can live without a microwave oven, so too can we live without a computer. For me, my computer is involved with my thinking. I doubt if I could any longer write this essay longhand. In fact while taking a break from my writing I read a New York Times article (May 10, 2014) by Matt Richtel titled “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately Coding.” The article deals with the currently recognized importance of computer skills in education. Here is the quote which shows the focus of the article related to this essay. “Chicago’s public school system hopes to have computer science as a graduation requirement in all of its 187 high schools in five years …”
So, in the not-too-distant future, computer skills won’t be a choice, but a must. My age-mates of the future will need to use their computers to fill in all life’s required forms, probably to choose their movies and maybe even to order their food and clothes. We don’t know what the future holds, but it is clear that mastery of computer technology will be a requirement. We may be able to avoid using a microwave oven, but it will be necessary to be computer proficient.
Written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist specializing in child development. Margery currently lives in a continuing care retirement community outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her senior living experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”