Seniors & Technology
Jenn Skinner - RSC, Pilgrim Terrace in Santa Barbara, CA
The Growing Gap Between Golden Agers and Technology
Reflecting back on all the major, life altering technology advancements that have occurred over the past 150 years, innovations like in-home electricity, the telephone, the automobile and the airplane all brought about drastic changes to life style, travel, and communication. More recently, the arrival of the computer and the World Wide Web has infiltrated almost every area of life as we knew it. Today with the mind-boggling technological advances, we can see people as we talk to them in real time across the world, send and receive a letter almost instantly, and stream almost any movie in our own home. The list goes on and on without even mentioning the ominous artificial intelligence and robot capabilities looming on the horizon that make the Star Wars robots seem primitive. The world seems to spin faster and faster...or is that just my head?!
“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born” - Alan Kay (computer scientist)
Advancements in technology have increased efficiency, expanded data tracking capabilities, and facilitated instant and distant communication. While some love and embrace the innovations, accomplishments, and conveniences that technology has brought, others long for the simpler days when you talked with a live person and all was real and tangible - you could see, touch, and comprehend all. Sometimes it feels like our reality is rapidly merging with the futuristic creations that seemed so implausible not that long ago! And if a 50+ year-old like myself has troubles comprehending the new age (including digital cryptocurrency which my 24-year-old son has tried to explain to me numerous times) then imagine the culture shock to our 75+ generation of seniors that we serve.
“Technology should improve your life… not become your life.” -Billy Cox (motivational speaker)
Seniors face a multitude of barriers when it comes to adopting cell phones and computer technology into their lives. For low income seniors, technology is an extra, unnecessary and unjustifiable expense. Even $30 a month for something nonessential is a struggle for a senior living on a fixed income. When faced with a choice between paying for internet service or getting needed dental work, the latter wins. Physical limitations also inhibit the use of electronics by our senior population. Cell phone screens are small and sometimes dimly lit. Touch screens or small buttons are designed for nimble fingers and sharply focused eyes. Cell phone sounds can be difficult to hear. But the biggest barrier may be the lack of interest or energy to learn something new and remember it. Seniors with health issues are in survival mode, taking it one day at a time. For many of the seniors who receive their free cell phones for the first time, it’s like trying to learn a foreign language at age 70; it’s cryptic. One way to lower the technology barrier is to pair local teens to help tutor seniors, as we did in our community pre-pandemic. This proved to be a great way to help bridge the gap for those motivated to learn to use a cell phone or a computer. It was heart-warming to see the youth of our community sharing their innate knowledge of technology with our brave seniors.
“Technology is best when it brings people together.” – Matt Mullenweg (entrepreneur and web developer)
Despite all the hurdles to access technology, there are benefits that technology brings to the aging population. For those that have family in faraway places, it allows them to connect easily and instantly. The Internet opens a whole world of classes, presentations, and music that might otherwise not be accessible to our seniors who are homebound or unable to drive, especially at night. The World Wide Web also allows people to travel to other parts of the world that they might otherwise never be able to see. It opens a wealth of information and opportunities to all with access which unfortunately also results in many of our older seniors being cut off from basic information and opportunities.
“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” - Pablo Picasso (Artist)
I’ve witnessed a widening of the gap between those with internet access and those without as the pandemic drags on. Those with computer literacy have been able to access family and friends and stimulating classes, presentations and concerts through Zoom and other video communication platforms. While the virtual version definitely isn’t as good as the real thing, it’s a connection to the outside world that others are missing. But besides the frills and social element of Internet access, more and more benefits are requiring technology to enroll and connect with cost saving programs. Providers usually offer a customer service phone number but the wait time and lack of resolution discourage people from actually using it, steering all customer needs towards the cost-effective “do it yourself” online option. Recently, service coordinators nationwide have prioritized assisting senior residents with securing COVID-19 vaccines. Availability of vaccines has been scarce in many areas and although a 211 help-line has been provided to assist those without online access, it has been overloaded and unable to deliver. Fortunately, in many senior communities, RSC have been able to help seniors sign up for their COVID-19 vaccines or schedule them at their properties. While service coordinators are available to help with on-line services for some fortunate seniors, those who don’t have access to technology or support are left without important services.
“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” - Albert Einstein (scientist)
Once it is safe to gather, our teen tech tutors will return. Hopefully, with their help, more seniors will be ready to adapt to the changing world and embrace ways to enrich their lives with technology so they can stay connected to the modern world we live in and be assisted remotely. Developing simplified electronics with basic functions would be a step toward bridging the gap for those intimidated by technology. Including internet access at low income communities would be another step toward making technology more accessible. Ultimately, once the physical and economic barriers are lowered, cultivating a sense of adventure and desire to explore the unknown might help motivate seniors towards crossing the bridge of technology.
“Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.” – Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Inc.)