When I started my business nearly 28 years ago, I wasn’t very familiar with home computers and Microsoft Word. Muttering loudly as I struggled to get my keyboard to do something, my then four-year-old ran into my office yelling “Mommy, let me help!” Realizing this child was not leaving my office until I obliged, he climbed onto my lap as I offered him the keyboard. Looking intently at the screen, then back at the keyboard, he said “Mommy, click twice”. Thinking this was a game, I did what he said and to my astonishment, it worked!!!
In our fast-paced digital age, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. While younger people effortlessly swipe and tap their way through the digital landscape, those of us who are slightly older often find themselves in befuddling conundrums.
I recall when VCRs were first introduced to households back in the 1970’s. For my friends and me, learning how to record and play back VHS tapes was so simple. To my parents however, it represented wonderment and bewilderment all at once. The buttons seemed to have a mind of their own, leading to unintentional fast-forwarding, rewinding, accidentally erasing what was on the tape and occasionally ejecting the tape altogether. Not to mention the millions of VCR clocks continually blinking across the globe because our parents didn’t know how to set the time.
My brothers and I used to roll our eyes. We didn’t understand how something so simple could become so overwhelming for our smart well-educated parents. Patient at first when we had to keep explaining how to program the machine, after continual phone calls for help, our patience started to wear thin.
Now, decades later, here we are. Today, I consider myself tech savvy. After all, I’ve been using computers, iPads, smartphones, and other devices for years. I am well versed in Microsoft programs, and I am competent when it comes to social media. Even so, I sometimes catch my children rolling their eyes at me and I know they think I am as challenged and dated as I once thought my parents were.
For example, recently we switched our television cable provider to a TV streaming service. There were so many choices—cubes, sticks and boxes to name a few. Truthfully, I found it confusing, so I assigned my son to pick one and set it up. He didn’t require any instructions to begin using it effectively, but remember, he knew how to fix my technical inadequacies when he was only four. I thought I needed just a little bit of TV streaming instructional guidance and felt comfortable that I could maneuver on my own. Well, until he left, and I turned the TV on by myself. There were endless apps and icons on the screen, and I couldn’t figure out how to watch Live TV. So, I called my son.
Patient at first, he said let’s FaceTime so I can see what’s going on. When he looked at the screen he said “Mom, where is the app”, to which I replied, “what app?” Hearing increased frustration in his voice and sensing eye rolling on the way, he explained that I had to be in our new service provider’s app in order to use it appropriately. Frustrated with the whole experience, I pretended I understood, thanked him, and decided to watch TV on my iPad, which I knew how to use.
The transition from traditional devices like landlines to cellphones, VCRs to streaming services happened more swiftly than when my parents were younger and has made it challenging for some older people to keep up. My millennial children have been exposed to technology from a very young age and therefore have a natural familiarity compared to older generations who had to adapt to these technologies later in life.
Learning preferences are also different. Some seniors accustomed to more traditional learning methods may find it tricky to adapt to self-guided learning on digital platforms. They may also be intimidated, feeling they might break something if they make a mistake.
That said, it’s important for digital savvy individuals, especially our children, to communicate with patience, understanding, empathy and minimal eye rolling when helping others with technology. I tried to apply that lesson as I was writing this article when my elderly mother called. She accidentally reached me through FaceTime. Not understanding, we were on a video call; she had the phone positioned in such a way that I could only see her nostrils. As I tried to explain how to move the phone, she became increasingly exasperated.
Normally, I may have raised my voice in frustration and rolled my eyes at her error which may have made her feel incompetent or even outdated. Instead, I decided to navigate her confusing digital journey with a smile, patience, and humor. After all, we can turn these accidental mishaps into funny anecdotes. I’m sure my son has gotten a few laughs when he’s shared his mother’s technical blunders as I have sharing mine.