As a 20 year-old in 2011, I grew up with adults critical of new gadgets and gizmos. Game Boys were “stupid,” computer games were “a waste of time,” and smart phones may still be “expensive and unnecessary.” I always shrugged these comments off as ignorant skepticism, but recently I’ve come to a realization—it’s not that adults are intolerant of technology; technology is intolerant of adults.
Technological ageism is a rampant problem in the digital world. Too often people assume that adults are unable to work a remote control, much less an Android phone. What we often ignore, however, is that there is a sizable and growing group of older people who use new technologies as avidly as younger people do, or who would like to if they could get a little tech help. Our elders are not ignorant, they just aren’t being brought in as part of the conversation.
My own parents exemplify the wide range of older people’s technological for them varies greatly. Mom deftly uses hers to check her email, snap photos, and tweet to her 909 followers. Dad uses his to make calls, but regards many of its other features as simply inconvenient. He struggles with most of its applications, and is easily be frustrated by any surprise “improvements” Apple throws at him.
If you read about my dad and thought, “What a dunce,” that’s the problem. When we, the young’ns, encounter someone older who doesn’t understand a technology that’s commonplace to us, we often jump to a dismissive reaction rather than a helpful one. Instead, we should put more effort into teaching the older generation how to use their new gadgets, and maybe dear ol’ Dad will surprise us at how capable he is.
For example, my dad didn’t buy his own smart phone. Mom and I, the technorati, gave it to him for his birthday, he didn’t really know what he was going to use it for. “This is going to make your life so much easier,” we told him. We just gave him this confusing gadget phone without showing him how to use it. It’s no surprise that he struggles with its basic features, because nobody told him how it works. I’d feel the same way if someone handed me the keys to a stick shift and told me to drive across the country.
When something new is developed, like the next e-reader or the next Jeopardy super-robot, it’s new to everybody. And if you think about it, retired people and teenagers have a whole lot in common—they don’t have jobs, they love TV, and they have tons of free time. The only difference is that they weren’t introduced to technology in elementary school like we were, and so they need to learn our second-grade computer skills at an older age.
As much as we might dismiss Gramps’ ability to use a smart phone, educating people about technology is important for both young and old. As important as it is to get computers into grade school classrooms, it’s just as useful to get them into the retirement communities.
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