“I’m no good with this technology stuff.”
“I always have my kids/grandkids help me out with the computer.”
“I’ll never be able to figure this out.”
Working in customer service in a consumer tech field, these are the statements I hear daily from our older customers who feel as though they’ve been left behind by technology as it has advanced at break-neck speeds over the last two decades. As technology has advanced and permeated every aspect of our lives, it has created a sub-section of our population that struggles to adapt. Ultimately, I believe that if a large percentage of the population struggles to adapt, or simply refuses to participate, that can result in creating a technological “lost generation”, individuals who are incapable of tapping into the vast informational and social benefits of the internet. I would argue that there is a moral imperative to insuring that everyone who is interested in learning technology has the resources and ability to do so, and that requires a commitment from both young and old to engage in learning and teaching regularly.
One of the best things about modern day technology and communication is how easy it is to reach outand talk to someone. With services like Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and others, individuals across borders and all around the world are able to interact and communicate with ease. Just over 10 years ago, if an adult child moved across the country and away from their parents, their main form of communication would likely be email and phone calls. Now, text messaging and video chat have expanded those options and allow for a more accessible and personal level of communication, even when you’re hundreds or thousands of miles apart. A parent or grandparent who is able to navigate such software would be able to enjoy more regular contact with family in a way that was impossible nearly a decade ago. A grandparent in Boston can video chat with their grandchild in San Diego and see the drawing that they made that day of their family and be available to take part in “life’s little moments”. Those who are unfamiliar with tech, however, could find themselves feeling excluded or left behind.
In the same way that texting and video chat have strengthened connections between families and friends, the unique way that technology allows us to instantly share photographs has changed the way that we share experiences and create memories. Photographs have long been the way in which we preserve our stories and create our histories. Pictures would be captured and then taken to a nearby photo developer, at which point you might have multiple copies made for friends and loved ones. No longer. People don’t line up and get their rolls of film processed the same way anymore: they simply upload their photos to services like Flickr and Dropbox and share them with friends via email. Photos could still be printed, but now are requested through websites of major retailers such as Costco and Wal-mart. Being on the outside looking in on things as intimate as family photos can certainly be frustrating for those unfamiliar with how digital photo sharing works. It was certainly the case with my friend Barbara.
It was a weekday morning when an older woman, Barbara, walked into our store. She looked flustered, and declared that she hated her phone and everything to do with it. Right away I could tell she did not have a positive relationship with technology, and this manifested itself in her attitude. It made sense really: since technology has become such a central part of our day to day lives, she was subjected to this war with technology every day with little resources or backup. I would be cranky too. I took her aside and asked her what she wanted to be able to do on her device, and she explained that she was a new grandmother, and that there were pictures of the baby all over Facebook, but she had no way to access it. She was being asked for passwords she didn’t know, and was being “walked through” the steps quite forcefully by younger family members who grew impatient with her trying to get it to work. By the time she got to me, she was frustrated and ready to give up. I smiled and assured her that we would get her up and running and she would be using Facebook like a pro in no time. She didn’t believe me, but that’s just what we did. We found and reset the passwords that we needed to in order to get her up and running, and when she accepted the friend requests her daughter had sent her, the recently published album of her new granddaughter was one of the first posts on her feed. She was delighted. I then showed her how she could download and share
those photos with others, even use a photo as a background photo. Do you remember at the end of How The Grinch Stole Christmas where the Grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes? That’s what happened with Barbara’s view of technology. All it took was some time, and some patience. This is really the calling of all those who are more familiar with technology, young and old, to help bring those who are struggling along with us into a more modern society.
Without a doubt, technology has developed at an unbelievably fast pace over the last 20 years. Growing up with it, there is still an expectation of those my age and younger to just “get it”, but I will be the first to admit that while I may be more familiar, my natural aptitude for picking up technology is no greater than anyone else’s. That’s why whenever I have an older person express frustration with their technology, I do my best to sympathize with them and then take the time to teach them what they need to know. This is critical. As with Barbara, many of those who are are uncomfortable asking for help feel that way because they have asked for help “too many times”. Maybe they asked their son or daughter to help them reset their email password, maybe they really couldn’t figure out how to download an album and so they requested hard copies. In short, they may have exhausted their personal resources and now feel as though their exclusion from this age of information is their punishment for not picking it up fast enough. This should never be the case. If you have an older relative who may feel this way, offer your help. Take them through some of the basics and explain why it’s important. If you are an older person who is frustrated with your technology, keep reaching out. There are people out there who want to help you see those family photos and share your wonderful memories.