How do Today's Seniors really Communicate in Today's World

By Eleanor Dorst


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Do you remember when - there was a time not too long ago - when you picked up the phone and actually talked to a real person! The only prerequisite… "Hey, it’s ringing and somebody wants to talk to me."

Of course, it was attached to the wall and had a curli-cue looking cord, that always got tangled, no matter how hard we tried to straighten it. We could play with it when we talked to the other person on the other end, when the conversation got boring, long winded (or whatever), there was no such thing as caller ID/call display back then.

Well, those days are long gone for most of us. Now, we know who’s calling, where they are calling from and even if they are one of those annoying telemarketers. You now have the option to pick up or just let the machine do it for you. In yesteryear, you would have to run to catch the call before they hung up - and you knew after so many rings, you would miss them. Tough luck!

Answering services were not invented yet, and you were left wondering who that person was. Missed calls were vexing, did I miss out on a loved ones call, an important job, or the date I was expecting. We just hoped they would call back.

I am a senior, mid-sixties, and still feel like a “child of the sixties". I had the advantage of two types of learning: the old fashioned black board, memorizing our times table, and then the emerging one in the late eighties with the birth of computers. Yes, I could multiply figures in my mind and even compose ideas in my own brain, I was slowly weaned into the “new technology”. The one thing that impressed with this new information was how fast and ever-changing it was.

One month with technology, it was the latest thing on the market then six months down the road, there was something bigger and better. I remember how the TV, record players and transistor radios gave us a few decades to get use to them. Not the new phones and computers, they just “popped up” overnight and you better get on board or you were sure to be left behind.

So, now some twenty years in to the new technology, I have adapted to the modern ways. But, what if you are in your eighties, nineties or even triple digits. How do you make sense of it all?

Does it blow your mind there are no phone books or card catalogues at the library to get your information from books. And what about books, newspapers, etc? Remember curling up with a good book on a cold winter’s night and actually feeling the pages in your hands. How is all the change affecting your lives? Do you want to shout out loud, "Enough!" let’s stop the speed of technology and change and just go back to the good old days.

I was lodging at a senior’s place for a few years and noticed how some folks reacted when I mentioned the dreaded “computer" word, or even smart phone. Some were noticeably upset by my use of the phrase, “just Google it” when they wanted to know something.

I decided to talk to younger seniors and older seniors and actually see how they were faring. So I ventured out in an aged community to get a sense of what seniors really think - it's definitely a controversial topic for some. 

Here is a sampling of some of the answers to the question I posed to various seniors of different ages in my own area. Can you relate?

 “Why do you or why don't you have a computer and or smart phone"

1) oh, I need someone to show me how it works. What if I press the wrong button and it explodes!

2) I don’t want others knowing all my business. I want my privacy. I heard about all that hacking and I don’t want my personal affairs tampered with.

3) Oh, my husband/wife likes the computer…I am more of a cooker, gardener, kind of person.

4) They are so expensive… I hear those Apples ones are thousands of dollars… I will wait till they come down in price.

5) Some people are number people and some are colour people…number people are more suited to computers.

6) A feisty 80+ woman, said point blank…"what’s not to like about them!”

7) I am 74 yr. old and never bothered to learn it, but, my neighbour said to buy an Apple which is thousands of $$....I will buy one and let the neighbour teach me.

8) Woman who told me in a whisper my husband lives on it but, I still like my cooking and cleaning and let him stay on it.

9) I don’t have a computer because I think it’s an invasion of privacy and I don’t want others to know things about me.

10) Too hard to understand and very confusing from a German senior still living in Germany, who is a former teacher… no, I don’t have an email address either.

11) Couple in their 70’s…love computers, but, prefer wired ones to wireless mice.

12) Don’t have a smart phone but, prefer landlines. Worried that landlines will be permanently removed.

13) One senior has a landline and a smart phone. Prefers the landline. She is computer literate and likes it.

14) 90 yr. old - "I like looking at the internet and playing some games."

15) 91 yr. old says she has no use for the new technology…and likes her land line just fine. She has no answering service and when you call her you better let it ring twenty times, but, she still answers in person.

She feels the new technology is making us less friendly and harder to talk with.. I tend to echo that same sentiment myself. They say it’s the social isolation that is getting to us in this time in history.

So my research, while not based on hundreds of people, sure gave me a sense that when it comes to technology the ones who “love it” really do, and the ones who “hate it” really do.

Personally, I have a basic cell phone on me most of the time and just use it in case there’s a fire, my car breaks down, or I am being assaulted. These things haven’t happened so far, but, I guess it's like they say to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. Be prepared!

I have a Kobo Arc that I like for reading and checking mail. I have had numerous computers in the last twenty years, mostly the desktop tower ones, and of course about three or four laptops. I like reading the news, entertainment, games, emailing and searching for information. I am an addict and have known to go some 24 hours without a fix. I am quite shocked on the bus, on the streets, malls and at the gym how most folks are glued to their gadgets. My ex-husband prides himself on having “saved” a few from potential accidents on the streets when they were distracted by their phones. It is a growing concern.

So my relationship with new technology is definitely love/hate…when the system is down, slow or “out of whack" I can swear like a sailor, but, the angel on my shoulder reminds me it’s only a computer.

On the plus side of new technology, I heard that seniors who are engaged in computers, can offset Dementia/Alzheimers, because the neurons in the brain are more activated. Hence, the adage - use it or lose it!

So, what category do you fit into? Are you on board with the new way of the world, or do you long for the bygone days? I guess it’s all personal preference.

Eleanor Dorst

 

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