Rules for Seniors and Technology: There Are None

Seniors and Technology: Apps and Gadgets

Seniors and technology: A collection of thirteen "Idiots Guide" and "for Dummies" books my parents have acquired to learn new things
Seniors and technology: Some of the books my parents have acquired

Any stereotypes of seniors and technology not being a good match are outdated. Recently I coached my mother through the process of creating and updating contacts on her iPhone 6 Plus. After about an hour of instruction and practice, she understood it and thanked me. We took a lunch break, and an hour later we were back at it, but this time we set up her Fitbit Charge 2. We’d ordered one after she wore my band for a 24 hour period and logged an impressive – okay, mind-blowing – 16,750 steps! I helped Mom create her profile and walked her (pun intended) through all the functions. After an hour, she was ready to compete.

My mother is 84 and lives in Pennsylvania. I live in Florida and all of this training was by phone (our identical iPhones). Before hanging up, she asked, “Do you think I have Alzheimer’s?” What?!? Mom is in good health and is an avid reader and writer. I assured her she was way ahead of many others, even her own granddaughter, with her use of apps.

Mom’s Technology Revolution

My parents bought their first big, boxy IBM in the early ’90’s, and immediately started using it. By comparison, I ordered my first computer from the Home Shopping Network in 1991. Those early desktops came with dust covers back then. I was eager to learn how to use it but was thoroughly intimidated once it arrived. Under the dust cover, it stayed. For a year. I finally took a class, and five years later, I was teaching Microsoft Office classes.

Several years ago I showed Mom how to use the Google Earth app on my iPad and she watched excitedly as we zoomed in to street level view of her home in Berlin, Germany. She bought her own iPad and I trained her on the different features, including the Kindle reading app.

Occasionally I’d gift her an eBook I thought she’d like. Mom enjoyed reading that way – helped us downsize the book collection – but complained the iPad was too heavy for her to hold for long periods when lying in bed. During one visit, I handed her my Kindle to read an entertaining book on writing, Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley. The next morning she drifted into the kitchen for coffee, looking bleary-eyed. I asked her how she liked the book. “It was great! I was up until 4:00 a.m. reading it (UGH!). Now what is this thing?!?” she asked, waving the Kindle excitedly. “This is what I want. It’s perfect for reading while lying down.” And off to the office supply store we went.

Mom Gets a Smart Phone

Even with my mother’s affinity for her iPad, I thought a smart phone was more tech that she needed or could handle. Mom had trouble figuring out how to answer, or even end calls, on her tiny ancient flip phone. I suggested she get a cell phone designed for seniors. The kind with dime-sized buttons and limited features. However, when she saw my iPhone, she got one too.

As Mom got comfortable with texting, her messages grew. Chapter length. She called me one evening, frantic, and said she hoped she wasn’t charged by the word. Hmmm… I saw an opportunity for mischief. But when Mom mused out loud, “What if I don’t use capitals or punctuation? Will that cost less?” I immediately blurted, “You have unlimited texting! PLEASE use punctuation…” Sigh. And smile. I treasure all my mother’s texts, whether a sentence or a chapter.

My mother loves her phone and is an eager and patient learner. I marvel at how much technology she has learned in a short period. She is now writing her life story, something she’d talked about doing for years.

So who are “seniors” anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster.com, the “definition of senior citizen for English language learners is : an old person : a person who is at least a certain age (such as 55).” The synonyms are “ancient, elder, geriatric, golden-ager, oldster, old-timer…” With my mother’s eagerness and ability to learn how to use smart technology, it’s hard to classify her as a “senior” when this terminology often suggests an age group that has diminished or limited capabilities.

Both my parents have always kept up with technology, taking classes and amassing a varied collection of “…for Dummies” and “Complete Idiot’s Guide…” books. As for my father, he set up his own Facebook account at age 86. Although his faculties are beginning to dwindle now at 92, a few months ago he announced he wanted to start tweeting.

Shopping cart of old desktop computer, monitor and keyboard
Recycling old technology

My experiences with seniors and technology, particularly my mother, have reminded me not to make assumptions about my clients’ abilities and interests based on their age. That number just represents their generational frame of reference. And how descriptive can the term senior be if it represents everyone 50 to 100+ years old?

I am 56 as of this writing. By many standards, I am a “senior.”I received my AARP invitation at age 49 and used my first senior discount at age 50 to buy my daughter some work shoes. As with many of my mature or baby-boomer generation clients, I am just getting started. But I’ll take those senior movie discounts. And I’ll buy the tickets with my smartphone.

Need help weeding out boxy desktops, fax machines, printers and other tech space hogs to make room for newer space-efficient options? Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here.  I’m ready to help with that and other organizing issues. I’d love to hear from you!

Barbara Trapp, CAPM
Professional Organizer
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Organization of Professional Organizers)
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO