According to AARP, adults fifty and over have adopted technology at roughly the same rate as younger people, though this tapers off with age. Three-quarters of those over fifty own smartphones, especially those fifty to fifty-nine, with texting being the most popular form of communication. Use of social networking follows the same pattern. Video-chat options—like Skype, Zoom, What’s App, or Facetime—are not as popular with only about one in six older adults using them regularly.
So, while they may be purchasing laptops, smartphones, and tablets and all of the possibilities that come with them, many older adults say they still don’t feel confident about using them. A recent study published in the journal Healthcare found that often “frustration” with new technology made older adults unsure of their ability to use it; many were unmotivated to even try.
I currently own two Mac computers, an iPhone, and an Apple watch. I was introduced to my first computer in the early eighties. It was a clunky Osborne with a tiny screen and impossibly complicated software. But to me, it was magical. That was forty years ago, and I have been using a computer ever since. After the Osbornes, they have all been Macs. I’ve used them for all kinds of writing, amateur design projects, websites, marketing materials, social media, email, and books.
That is not to say I have used them expertly; I have not. While I’m not intimidated, I certainly can relate to being frustrated. If something can go wrong, it will, often repeatedly. I am anything but intuitive when it comes to computers. In fact, my daughters and friends have insisted over the years that I have a poltergeist. I think she is more of a technology demon because the minute I start working, there she is, sitting on my desktop.
Despite being technologically challenged, there are things I love to do and things I hate to do. In the love-to-do column are any projects that involve writing for pleasure or profit, research, and tinkering with my website. In the other column are social media, endless back-and-forth emails when a phone call would suffice, and fighting my way through new apps. Surprisingly, I don’t mind texting. My daughters, who are not yet senior citizens, are masters of the medium and patiently guide me through everything from Spotify to Zoom.
Technology did not enter my life until my mid-forties, and the learning curve was steep. Most of today’s children have access to some form of technology before they can walk. These days, the question isn’t if a child will be computer literate, it is when—and how soon is too soon to start thinking about technology for children. Pushing keys and manipulating a mouse develops fine-motor skills and eye-hand coordination in those chubby little hands and fingers. Those are some of the pros. There are, of course, many cons, but the point is that a toddler who learns her way around a keyboard has quite an advantage over someone who starts many decades later.
If you are an older adult who is comfortable and proficient with today’s ever-changing technology and increasing array of equipment, my hat is off to you. Most of us struggle, a little or a lot, but I developed a philosophy about this about the time that Osborne landed on my desk. I had two choices: stick with my IBM Selectric and continuous-form typewriter paper or try my hand at forming words out of confusing combinations of keystrokes and reading what I wrote on a four-inch-square monitor. One was in my comfort zone; the other was a maddening enigma that seemed difficult to decipher.
I was not the only one to face this choice when computers arrived at my workplace. Here’s what made up my mind. I watched as some brave souls embraced the challenge and mastered the new technology, while others dug in their heels and continued to do things the way they had always been done. They were quite simply afraid of change and learning something so unfamiliar. But change had come to our little company, and anyone who couldn’t get with the times was going to be left behind—like the dinosaurs. I decided at that moment I was never going to be a dinosaur.