Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #9

My dad’s advice: It’s hell getting old. Don’t do it.

Two very significant things are happening this century. First, Americans are living longer than any previous generation, so we are all discovering, directly or indirectly, the handicaps that come with old age. Second, computer technology has become truly mainstream, catching a whole generation off guard. Consequently, computer illiteracy has become one of those old age handicaps, and it is acutely felt by those who are otherwise functioning extremely well in society.

The older generation sees their grandchildren interacting with all kinds of computers with ease, yet they have difficulty just getting their heads around some of the most basic concepts like menus and scrollbars. I haven’t kept track of how many older adults I have talked to about computers, but I’m sure if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “I feel so stupid” I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

I repeatedly tell members of the older generation they are not stupid, they are inexperienced. They wouldn’t think of themselves as being stupid because they can’t play a piccolo or speak Swahili. Neither should they feel stupid because they can’t use a computer…yet. Did they learn to read in a day or a week? How long were they taught penmanship? ( “Oh! Years!”) And that was when they were young, like their grandchildren.

Learning to use a computer is doable, no matter how complicated it looks to them. But a big factor in their success is their attitude. In addition to making it easier for them to learn, it is important to counteract the self image they come in with by reminding them that they are learning, that it is not as hard as they imagined, and that they can do it. It is a wonderful thing to see their faces brighten as they realize they have learned something, and therefore are not stupid after all. As their attitude and self image changes, barriers start coming down and they pick up more determination.

Tip #9: Encourage them. Not just with positive reinforcement, but with active encouragement that reminds them what they have accomplished.

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