“I’m old, I don’t know computers”

toolbars

My anecdotal experience is the stereotype of older people not able to use technology is well and true. Far too often, we hear: “I’m old, I don’t know computers.” They don’t seem to have either the ability or desire to become familiar with tech related stuff. Random examples:

  • confusing chrome with google
  • can’t tell the difference between browser, url, and email address
  • thinking the on/off button on the monitor turns the computer on/off
  • getting flustered and in a panic when they can’t remember their username and password (how about clicking the ‘forget password’ link)
  • trying to explain their computer problem to you over the phone and expecting that you have Superman’s eyesight
  • no concept of memory, RAM, bandwidth, speed, wifi vs mobile data–no, a couple of whatsapp messages won’t eat into you 3GB monthly allowance
  • long email subject line as the content of the email
  • forwarding jokes/memes/health tips/multi-level marketing scam
  • can’t upload files, only now discovering facebook albums, not deleting duplicate or crappy pictures so their phone memory is full
  • on the one hand is paranoid about sending personal information online; on the other hand clicks on links without checking the url
  • wondering why the computer is so slow, and there are 10 installed toolbars

There are studies and articles about why people who didn’t grow up with technology find it difficult to learn. Small setbacks, like touchscreen sensitivity or small fonts, erode confidence and add fear. The elderly are definitely not unintelligent, there simply seems to be some sort of mental or psychological block, or it could be that learning agility slows with age. There’s an ELI5 explanation that uses language as analogy:

Imagine that you’ve made it through into your adult life using English. Then one day, you hear someone speaking LangX, a totally new language that they claim is going to change the world. For the next decade, only a few people speak it, and no one you know has ever really used it. Another decade later, and its catching on. You’ve heard kids using it, and its starting to gain traction, but it hasn’t really been important for you to learn it. You retire from work just as your workplace gets its first expert in LangX.

So you cruise into retirement, content knowing that you’ve worked your ass off, and now get to enjoy the simpler things in life. All of a sudden, everyone uses LangX, and no one speaks English any more. You go the the grocery store, or to the bank, and the employees get mad at you for using English. Your grandkids refuse to translate things for you anymore. Your kids keep buying you books written in LangX, thinking that that will help you learn the language.

I know a lot of people who are in the middle-age and senior age range who are very good at technology. They may or may not have a scientific or technical background; seems to me that they made the effort to learn and ask the right question. Computers are not new. Consoles like atari, commodore and sinclair were available by the early 1980s, the IBM PC with the 8088 processor was introduced in 1981, the original Mac appeared in 1984. By the 1990s, home computers were fairly common and relatively affordable–the first iMac, Dell, Compaq, all these names were familiar late 20th century brands.

All that happened 20 years ago.

Isn’t “I’m old, I don’t know computers” getting, well, old? Isn’t it one of the many excuses for mediocrity? Just like it’s not okay to use age as an excuse to be rude or entitled or misogynistic/racist/homophobic; it’s not okay to use it as an excuse to be lazy or complacent or negative. I’m not saying become a php expert or start writing apps, I’m saying learn how to google, learn what is a browser, learn how to swipe on a smartphone. Computers and devices are very user-friendly nowadays. A few weeks ago my aunt called mum via whatsapp, mum got in a panic and shoved the phone at me. The screen said swipe up to answer, so I swiped up to answer. What was so difficult about it?

Another day, she asked me to write an email reply, a simple thank you to someone. In the past I would have written it for her, just like I swiped her phone to answer the call for her. This time I said to do it herself but do it in front of me. She hit reply on her ipad, typed it all out and hit send. She missed a full stop but I didn’t correct her. She can do it herself, she just needs to stop automatically expecting that I’d do it just because she doesn’t want to.

We need to stop feeding the beast by giving in and doing it for them because it’ll be 100 times quicker and involve less hair-pulling attempts at explanation. It’s better in the long run.

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