It’s been “created with seniors in mind,” so there are “No confusing icons, tool bars, cascading windows, or computer jargon.”
My initial reaction (the expurgated version) is “Give me a break!” After a minute or two of reflection, it occurred to me that this is an ill-conceived solution to a problem which may not even exist.
I’ve been thinking a lot about use of computers, including the Internet, among people who are “old,” say aged 55 and up. Who in this group uses computers, who does not, and, if not, why not?
First some information about my experience. For one thing, the studies on computer use by age don’t strike me as all that helpful. For another, I think that I’m fairly representative of people 55 and up who use computers regularly.
I started using a computer on the job many years ago. Shortly after that I bought my first computer, monitor, keyboard, and printer which altogether cost a whooping $3,400.
I started with word-processing and learned new things as they came along, either with the aid of step-by-step user manuals (remember those?), mandatory training of the one-size-fits-all variety favored at my last job, and significant amounts of trial-and-error.
These days—like millions of other people—I mainly use my computer for such things as sending and receiving e-mail; online banking; shopping; reading news, online publications, and blogs; preparing speeches, including PowerPoint presentations; checking financial investments; organizing photos, using social media, ordering prescription items; and preparing and submitting my tax return using the terrific TurboTax. Of course, I also use it for my blog. So, clearly, I belong in the group below.
Group 1: People aged 55 and up who use computers regularly
Research generally indicates that computer use is low in the 55 and up age group, although it’s a bit hard to sort out. One survey shows that the 60 or 65 and up group is the fastest growing age group on certain social media websites, but others say that doesn’t mean what you think it means. They say that it merely means that long-time computer users are getting older, so the fastest growing age group isn’t new users who are old; it’s old users getting older.
In much of the information, advice, and research on the topic, there’s an assumption that almost nobody aged 55 and up uses computers regularly. In other words, there is no Group 1, and, if there is, it’s very small. This is absurd.
It seems to me that there is a large, competent, and knowledgeable group of people who used computers on the job (if not before) for years and are still using them. And that this group will become larger and larger as more and more such people reach the age of 55.
Group 2: People aged 55 and up who don’t use computers
So, who’s in the second group? This is the more interesting question (and arguably even a problem) for a number of reasons. Group 2 includes those who haven’t used computers on the job and aren’t inclined to start now due to one or more of the following beliefs:
Bogus Belief 1. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so don’t even try.
As I’ve discussed in Three Common Myths of Aging, if you don’t think you can learn new things, you may stop even trying. The less hard you try, the less well you perform. The less well you perform, the less hard you try and so on and so on.
Young people are terrified of aging in part because of this belief (and in part because of the bogus belief that old people don’t have sex. Of course they do, but that’s a discussion for another time).
So the myth creates a fear of failure. Look at it this way: If someone offered to teach you something, never believing for a minute that you’d be any good at it, and you yourself were secretly afraid that you wouldn’t be any good at it, would you sign up for that humiliation?
Bogus Belief 2. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes the old dog just doesn’t get it. There’s nothing you can do about that.
Learning to use the computer takes time, and many of us in Group 1 have had years to learn new things on the computer as they came alone. But if a person did not have an opportunity to use a computer on the job, he or she is faced with learning all this stuff at once. And it’s daunting, intimidating, nearly impossible. And—as if that were not challenging enough—a person aged 55 and up is likely to be taught by a younger person who’s impatient and critical and doesn’t hide it very well.
I read about one office where younger workers were asked to instruct older workers in certain computer use. It wasn’t going so well, until some supervisors started to notice that many of the older workers were coming in early or staying late or bolting their lunch at their desks, so they could have more time to practice using their computers.
They needed time alone at the computer without someone hovering and watching every hesitation and correcting every tiny error. The older workers were absolutely getting it, even enjoying it, but they needed to work on their own. Even on their own time. That should tell us something.
Bogus Belief 3. With age, inevitably, comes disability
Many people, including those who write ad copy for computers “created with seniors in mind” equate age and disability. It’s true that some disabilities, such as impaired vision, tend to increase with age. But then the issue is not age per se. The issue is reduced ability to see the keyboard and the screen. That’s a different matter altogether.
Again, my experience is relevant, particularly because I had a thorough eye exam just last week. At the end of the exam the doctor said,
There’s no evidence of glaucoma or retinopathy or macular degeneration. However, you’re probably going to need cataract surgery. In about ten years!
What it all means
Group 1 should become larger and larger and Group 2, correspondingly, smaller as more and more people use computers in school and on the job.
Photo by mbk