You don’t have to be of a certain age to feel overwhelmed by the furious pace of technology.
But it sure does contribute to that special feeing of humiliation as your children or even grandchildren walk you through that simple, 27-step process for setting up the new miracle gizmo or service that’s sure to improve your life.
Even Clark College technology instructor Charles Jackson, who teaches adult-education courses on computer basics and smartphones, said he’s been struggling to help his parents up the tech learning curve.
Part of the challenge is purely technical — like teaching them how to push screen icons that behave like buttons — but another is convincing his elders that getting up to speed on technology really does add value to life, Jackson said.
The coronavirus pandemic made that unexpectedly clear to many. Technology-challenged boomers quickly became Zoomers to stay in touch with family, friends, churches and other social supports via livestreaming. A new army of FaceTiming, Googling grandmothers has refuted any idea that they can’t manage technology, or that screen time automatically equals zombie time.
Affordable Connectivity Program: fcc.gov/acp
Aging Connected: agingconnected.org; 877-745-1930
Senior Planet: seniorplanet.org
“Technology Mindset” videos: waportal.org/partners/home/washingtonworkforce
Clark College continuing education: cce.clark.edu; 360-992-2939
Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries tech resources: www.fvrl.org/resources; 360-906-5000.
Digital Learn: digitallearn.org
While extensive screen time may impair younger people’s brain development and increase emotional, social and attention-deficit problems, the exact opposite may be true of older adults who crave stimulation and connection, according to a research paper published in the June 2020 issue of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
Brain imaging shows that older adults who learn online skills “show significant increases in brain neural activity,” according to the paper. “Certain computer programs and video games may improve memory, multitasking skills, fluid intelligence and other cognitive abilities.”
According to the paper, older adults who received training in computer and internet use reported less loneliness, depression and isolation, as well as a greater sense of control over their lives.
“Learning technology comes from that same part of the brain where you learn a new language,” Jackson said. “That can be scary at first, but it builds freedom and it builds confidence. When people learn new things, I can hear the building blocks snapping into place.”
You can’t snap anything into place if you don’t have the equipment.
“Many older adults are not online at all, or don’t have access to high-speed internet,” said Breanne Swanson, a community services supervisor at the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington. “Smartphones fall into this category too.”
The coronavirus pandemic has underlined the digital divide between those who enjoy easy access to the internet and those who don’t, either because they can’t afford it or can’t figure it out, Swanson said.
Fortunately, excellent resources to get you online are available, although they aren’t well publicized, Swanson said.
An expansive, permanent government Affordable Connectivity Program launched on Jan. 1 that replaces a temporary, pandemic-driven one. So did a campaign called Aging Connected that’s striving to bring high-speed internet services to 1 million more older Americans.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is intended for people who meet low-income limits (200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, currently $25,760 for a single person and $53,000 for a family of four). It can provide a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service and up to $75 per month for households on tribal lands.
Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price.
Connect with the Affordable Connectivity Program by visiting agingconnected.org, a user-friendly website created by AARP and its Older Adults Technology Services affiliate.
But there’s that common, infuriating Catch-22: To get help getting online, it seems, you must already be online. Not with Aging Connected, Swanson said, where you can just pick up the phone and talk to a human being about your needs.
The Aging Connected phone number is 877-745-1930.
“It’s not just the over-50 crowd,” said Swanson, who’s in her 30s and struggles to read QR-coded virtual restaurant menus with her smartphone.
“Changing technology is a real problem for so many people,” she said.
Swanson recommends two resources if you’re sort-of connected but still struggling. One is a series of short videos aimed at older adults that was sponsored by the nonprofit Southwest Washington Accountability Community of Health.
In simple terms, the six-part “Technology Mindset” series examines the no-can-do attitude that prevents some people from mastering technology.
The videos use cooking as a parallel to computers: If you’re competent in the kitchen, making the occasional mistake doesn’t prevent you from ever making another meal.
“The only way to learn is to experiment and play,” video No. 3 says. “Don’t worry, you won’t break it.”
The “Technology Mindset” videos also provide a few beginner-level computer reminders, like how screen icons work, how to enlarge the print size on your screen, how to use Google to browse the internet and how (and why) to set up videoconferencing with friends, family and health care providers.
Another project of AARP is SeniorPlanet.org, a wide-ranging effort to make technology work for and with older people, not against them. SeniorPlanet’s free video library is exhaustive, covering everything from getting online and using social media to booking rides on Lyft. SeniorPlanet also offers frequent live sessions.
Most of the people who attend Charles Jackson’s “Personal Computer Basics” course at Clark College are in their 40s and older, he said. Many are retirees who never needed a computer for work. Some aren’t quite sure what to do with one now.
“ ‘Computer Basics’ is very basic,” he said. “You’re going to learn how to operate a keyboard and mouse. You’re going to learn how to navigate the basic functions of the Windows 10 system — opening applications, making files.”
Jackson takes as much time as beginning students need, he said.
“Some are very much novices. The explanation of ‘left click’ and ‘right click’ on the mouse can be a 20-minute session.”
Other students already have some familiarity with computers and want to build their skills, he said. For them, Jackson teaches second- and third-step computer classes at Clark that cover Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, getting online and using email.
“I do sometimes hear, ‘I need this because I’m tired of asking my kids to help me,’ ” he said.
“Maximizing your Android Phone” is probably Jackson’s most popular class with older folks, he said.
“Everyone in there has a cellphone and they’re all doing something with it, but I bring out a lot of uses they had no idea are there,” he said.
Jackson said he enjoys how that class becomes curiosity-driven.
“I get a lot of questions about security, a lot of questions about the cloud, a lot of questions about using apps for different things. The older generation is actually doing a lot on their phones,” he said.
Jackson reminds students that their phone or computer is just a vessel. Once you’ve learned to operate it, the software you load can take you wherever you want to go.
“You have to shift the mind muscle a little bit. You have to start exercising it,” he said. “I run into certain portion of the older generation who are not wanting technology to impede on their lives: ‘I don’t want it to disrupt what I do and how I do it.’
FVRLibraries suspended popular classes covering computer basics and other tech topics during the coronavirus pandemic, according to public services director Amy Lee.
But library staff still field questions and offer as much help as possible on an individual basis.
“We have to hold off on in-person programs but we are still here to help as best we can,” Lee said. “Staff offer assistance to anyone depending on their needs, including elderly either at the branch or on the phone. Anecdotally, most of the questions we get from older patrons are related to using one’s devices or how to download e-books or audiobooks.”
Meanwhile, she said, the library’s website features excellent beginner technology resources. Visit fvrl.org/resources, select Computers and Technology and “55+” for the audience. This can connect you with a how-to-use-a-mouse tutorial and DigitalLearn.org, a library of other helpful resources aimed at computer newbies.
Need a hot spot?
If you’ve got an internet-ready laptop but lack a connection, try borrowing a hot spot from the library. A hot spot is a mobile Wi-Fi access point that works via cell signal.
The library’s hot spots work only where Verizon and AT&T cell service is available. You can borrow a hot spot for up to three weeks.
All library locations provide free Wi-Fi access on site.
— Scott Hewitt
“I use my phone class to express that it can and should help enhance your lifestyle, not hurt it. If you’re into gardening, I can show you how to use your phone to look up things about gardening. I can show you how to look up the best times to plant things. After I show you, you can do it yourself.”
Registration opens in March for the next round of Jackson’s tech classes at Clark College, which will start in April.
You don’t have to be of a certain age to feel overwhelmed by the furious pace of technology.