By Polly Roberts, Florissant Public Library Branch Manager
Remember back when you first learned to drive a car? It was probably scary, frustrating, and just maybe, a little thrilling. The first attempts at driving probably weren’t very encouraging – especially if you were learning to drive a stick shift. But with practice and patience, you learned to drive and how to shift. Now you don’t even think about what you are doing; it has become second nature. And so it can be with technology.
Older adults have seen the greatest expansion of technology in the history of civilization. Rotary telephones have given way to “smart” cell phones. Televisions no longer pull in programming over the airwaves but instead receive hundreds of high-definition digital channels through fiber optic cables and satellites. Automobiles no longer have carburetors or AM radios – they can park themselves and respond to voice-controlled media programming via a full-color screen in the dashboard.
Technology can make life easier and more enjoyable for older adults. Benefits include:
- Socialization: connecting with family members and friends through social media, sharing photos, video chatting with the grandkids
- Knowledge: staying on top of current news, banking online, communicating with doctors and the pharmacy electronically
- Entertainment: reading books on e-readers, playing games, watching videos
- Shopping: buying anything from kitchen gadgets to gifts without leaving the house, getting special deals and coupons only available online
So why do you still refuse to use, or struggle with using, a computer?
A 2014 Pew Research Center survey on older adults and technology use highlights three key barriers that keep older adults from embracing technology:
- Skeptical attitude about the benefits of using technology
- Physical challenges that make it difficult to use devices
- Perceived difficulty learning new technologies
The most relevant word in the statement above is “perceived”. Human beings have the uncanny ability to talk themselves into just about anything – including convincing ourselves that we’re too old to learn something new, or that something is too complicated. But that’s not really true, is it?
Following are some tips for getting started:
Ease into things.
Just face it – you aren’t going to learn all there is to know about the Internet and using a computer all in a day. Remember the old joke about how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. To prevent frustration, set your expectations low right from the start. Everyone gets stuck early on and it’s really no big deal. Start with the simplest possible technology and go from there. Keep in mind any physical limitations — if you have arthritis that interferes with typing, for example, a tablet or an oversized keyboard might be the solution. If eyesight is an issue, there are phones designed with larger interfaces, and you can increase type size on devices and computers.
Find someone to help.
Choose wisely. Asking your son or daughter to teach you a few things may not be the best idea. Grown children tend to be less patient with their parents than when they were teenagers. The role-reversal involved may likely cause tension in your relationship. Grandchildren, nieces/nephews, or even young people from the neighborhood or church do not have to overcome this constraint, and they’re likely much more tech savvy, too. Older adults learn best in small bites, with one-on-one, hands-on “show-and-tell”.
You may need help more than once to remember all the steps involved in performing a particular task. Be patient, and know that eventually the repetition will result in a new skill that can bring you a wealth of knowledge and entertainment for years. If you find yourself getting impatient, walk away and take a break. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If you don’t yet have your own computer or Internet access, the Florissant Public Library has computers available for public use, and free wireless. The library is a comfortable, no pressure setting in which you can practice your new skills. The staff are always willing to try to assist you if you get stuck or forget how to do something.
Once older adults get online, they tend to be very active; Pew’s data show that most Web users over 65 use a computer to go online on a daily basis, and more than half use social media as well as e-mail and search engines. What does this mean? That once you discover the benefits of today’s technology, you’ll wonder what took you so long.