Do you have trouble keeping up with the changes from each upgrade to your computer’s operating system? Do you find you’re just getting used to the last version when the new one comes along and jiggers everything up? While it’s generally not a problem for me, that could be because a) I’m a dedicated Mac user and haven’t experienced a major shock to the system (pun intended) since leaping from 9 to OS X a decade ago and b) I follow the news of each new release, including this week’s OS X.X aka Yosemite, to get an idea what’s new well before the actual install. I fancy myself not the average casual user.
And maybe you’re not either, and the questions above don’t apply. Chances are good though you know people who are. They’re the ones you’re always directing to your favorite tech-help site when they email you with questions about why their computer doesn’t work as well as yours, the ones who tell their teenage son to call you at 10:30PM because he just spilled a glass of water on the brand-new laptop. (True story, unfortunately.) Chances are even better that one or more of your elderly or getting-there relatives are among this group, and how do you tell them you can’t help?
Tech guidance for the older often seems a vastly underdeveloped field. I realized this while visiting with family last Thanksgiving and ended up showing more than one relative how to set the passcode on their iPads. I’m fairly new to touch-screen devices myself and hadn’t yet done this for either of mine, but the ease with which I figured it out made me wonder what the disconnect was. Something like that isn’t supposed to be hard, and they certainly knew the right questions to ask. Maybe they just needed the right person of whom to ask them.
A few months later a friend posted on Facebook that she might be putting together beginner-level classes for seniors in modern technology use and solicited suggestions on what these folks would want to know. Among the flood of obvious and general answers – how to use an iPhone, how to sell on eBay – there were several that gave me pause. “Common action symbols,” someone wrote. “We take for granted that stuff like a floppy disc is save or that the gear sprocket is settings in a lot of apps.” Someone else commented that her grandfather never knew what the paperclip symbol on an email was, which was why he thought he never got the pictures she sent. And another offered, “How to find files. The whole interface of file management is a huge mysterious enigma for most people over the age of 50.”
The most telling response though came from someone whose mother knew an iPad could be used to stay in touch, just not how. The problem, she said, was solved by installing an app called Connect My Folks. “When you get down to it, some seniors don’t want to learn any more than the most basic thing,” she concluded. “How to connect to the people they love.”
This is something I often lose sight of when my own relatives ask for tech guidance. I’ll end up telling them about the functionality of the latest OS X, or what that gear sprocket actually does, and overlook that they’re average users like I once was. I need to become a better teacher, I think. I think a lot of us do. It probably won’t be all that long before we’re the ones looking for the right person to ask.