Why people assume certain attitudes always intrigues me. That, of course, is one of the reasons I chronicle the impact mindset has on aging and, in particular, aging well. Following that thought, about a year ago I read an article from the Pew Research Center on “Older Adults and Technology Use” (http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/). While the article cites a lot of statistical information about how older adults (categorized as 65 and older) use technology, the brief paragraph about attitude stands out for me. According to the article, aside from physical challenges like reading small print, and learning to use the technology, some older adults don’t believe there is a benefit to using it. Well, of course, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know I’m not so sure that’s the entire story.
Doing a little informal research of my own, I began paying close attention when I heard an older adult say, “Oh, I hate technology!” I did my usual eavesdropping on complete strangers. And, sometimes I inserted myself in the conversation, asking a few questions to satisfy my mental inquiry on the subject. I was probably a real pain to some of those people, especially when I asked them if they liked their car or their washer or their TV. I got a lot of blank stares. You see, people don’t think of those things as technology or even new technology. Because they have had lots of gadgets in their lives for so many decades, they expect to continue using them and expect to continue learning how to use the new versions when the old ones wear out. But, when it comes to computers, smart phones, social networking, email, texting, downloading music or books, or…enter the sci-fi of yesterday…Skyping, there is resistance from a certain segment of older adults. Like most people, when there’s something I really don’t want to do, even when I know I should do it, I become exceedingly proficient at finding excuses not to do whatever it is. My imagination can conjure up the best of them. That is just human nature. We can create obstacles where there really aren’t any hurdles at all. Hurdles like small print, when using a tablet like the iPad with zoom out technology will instantly make the print larger. Hurdles like learning how to use the new technology when classes, most of them free of charge, are offered by the vendors and manufacturers of the new technology, not to mention senior centers and local colleges and technology clubs.
Then, there’s the catchall of ‘no benefit’ to using new technology. That’s the attitude, the mindset shunning the entire package of new gadgets, no further questions or comments necessary, thank you. That’s also the part, which does not compute with me. How can something, which has so transformed our very way of life on this entire planet, have no-o-o-o benefit for a segment of our aging population? And, if they have shunned it, never immersed themselves in its use, how can they determine it has no benefit? It reminds me of the authoritarian Dad who, when confronted with a child wanting to try something new, spouts, “No!” to the poor kid before the request fully leaves their lips. If the child dares to query, “Why?”, Dad then blurts out, “Cause I said so, that’s why!”. Based on my non-scientific research, it seems like those who think all this new tech stuff has no benefit, probably never gave it a proper chance. For example, when I hear grandparents say they have no use for Facebook or Skype or text messaging, I wonder if they realize they are depriving themselves of a closer relationship with their grandchildren, especially if said grandchildren are miles away. No grandchildren? Well, then, children, siblings, aging parents, cousins, nieces, nephews or old friends. Even if no other benefit existed for immersing myself in new technology, the benefit of being able to engage with my grandkids nearly 800 miles north is benefit enough for me to put forth the effort necessary to figure out the technology. My two daughters do a superb job of posting videos and pictures of their children so I don’t miss football, softball or volleyball games or track meets or birthday parties or holidays. And, I can share my daily happenings with them. We Skype or FaceTime for special occasions. Amazing! It sure beats just sending a card or gift or saying, “Happy birthday” over the phone. How can you not love that?!!! And, it’s great to text a grandchild with a sentiment or attaboy but it is even better to get an “I love you, too” in return.
Speaking of kids, young people today are no different, than we were at a young age. Why, when we were young, we embraced new ideas and things to do every single day of every single week. We learned to use the technology of the day with anticipation and excitement. We didn’t think twice about benefits. It was simply what our world was doing and we wanted to be part of our world. Remember learning to drive? Was it a stick shift or an automatic? Remember the first TV at your house? How about when more than a few TV stations joined the lineup and you got a remote with the TV? You were older then, but you figured it out. Yet, as we age, we decide to play ‘old dog can’t be taught new tricks’. Well, old dog, here’s why you absolutely must keep learning new technology. The biggest benefit to learning about and using new technology is it helps keep your mind younger, sharper, more supple so you’ll be around to see even more technological advances and learn to use them. Remember, a few posts back I said learning new things opens new neural pathways in the brain. New neural pathways are necessary for maintaining brain health. You cannot find a more significant benefit than maintaining your brain health. So, don’t go closing your mind to using new technology. Who knows? Maybe you’ll stay sharp enough to see your extended family extend even further into the future. And, that’s a real benefit.