Technophobia is politely seen as a senior problem, but the proliferation of new apps and devices means that we’re all learning how to master new technology.
Some of us find it easy; most don’t. If you were born after say, 1990, you probably feel stymied by some piece of technology on occasion.
People experiencing age-related declines — as we all do, if we live long enough —tend to notice them first while interacting with a device. Aging eyes have a harder time seeing small print on phones, hearing loss makes it harder to hear fuzzy cell phone connections, memory issues make it easier to lose your phone or forget passwords, and arthritis can make it difficult to type.
Yet, technology is also a blessing as you age —it can compensate for your limits. If you can’t travel, you can see your grandkids on Skype. Type can be expanded to a size comfortable for you to read. You can amplify sounds. When your memory is slipping, “search” is your friend. You can talk to a phone and get directions. Eventually, your car will be driving you.
The proliferation of options and pace of change is overwhelming but, again, will serve you if you stay calm. Once upon a time, you would call a travel agency and let someone book your trip. Now any number of travel sites give you mountains of data. But if you don’t like one site, you can just move on. Site design gets better all the time, especially in areas with stiff competition. You can set up alerts for the flight you need.
Websites like www.seniornet.org, www.oats.org, ElderGadget.com, and www.senior-surf.org can help. Many communities offer low cost or free classes for seniors, sometimes matching them up with teen-age volunteers. Check out the list of courses at the Senior Planet Exploration Center in New York for ideas; maybe your local library will run the class you need. You might end up building your own website.
Play with new devices for fun — so you don’t panic when you actually need them.
If your fingers fumble with the mouse or a trackpad, play online games for practice.
Don’t worry that you’ll cause damage. Computers, smartphones, tablets and the like don’t break because you click around. Many people fear losing important data or that they’ll cause a permanent screwup. On a computer you can arrange to have all your work backed up to the “cloud” and onto a private hard-drive. A program called “System Restore” will bring your laptop back to the point before a mishap; if you’re using Windows, you already have it.
Take the time to customize your devices so you enjoy them. Think about the font size and background photo on your email. Mine has a gray background photo of trees in late fall; nature photos are calming.
Ask questions. Go back to the store and ask different clerks until you find one who is helpful and friendly.
There’s no shame in needing help, especially from children or grandkids you helped to raise.
However, I’ve found that needing help can make me anxious. I feel better the more I learn. Make Google your friend. Any number of times I’ve asked tech-savvy friends to answer a question and watched them type my exact words into the Google search bar. If you like learning from videos, type “YouTube” plus your question in Google, and chances are someone has made an instructional video. To conquer anxiety, make it a point of pride to search out an answer yourself before asking for help. And when people help you, watch what they do, so you don’t need to ask twice.
At an impasse? Frozen screen? Turn off the device, wait a few seconds, and start it up again. After watching my helpers do this a trillion times, I now remember to try it myself.
Feel overloaded with information? “Divide and conquer.” In other words, sort. Your email box may be stuffed; but you can choose a neat program that provides filters and sorting devices. Do the same for news and other kinds of information. Can’t find an email? Search for it by keyword.
Ignore types of information you don’t find useful. You may like to read customer reviews, or find them misleading. It’s your choice.
Take breaks and practice your favorite calming strategy — put on background music, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. Then go back to the machine that enraged you. Running away feeds anxiety. Returning builds confidence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve solved my own insuperable problem once I could focus. Personally, I don’t take deep breaths. I scream at my computer (so far, no neighbors have complained). I used to worry that I was overreacting, until one of those tech-savvy friends confessed that he too regularly felt overwhelmed by technology — granted, fancier problems than mine. I’ve built three websites, tweet, use blogging platforms and online research sources, send photos and electronically-recorded interviews by email or text, alter photos, use online calendars, and pay nearly every bill automatically. But my inner technophobe appears every now and again. Breathe. Go on.
September 25, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN