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Technology and Aging

As older adults who were born and grew up before personal computers and cell phones, Johnnie and I are in the unique position to understand why many seniors resist new technology. We feel what younger people who have always known a world with Personal Computers, don't -- a loss of privacy, of quiet, stillness, peace. We also have experienced the steep learning curve involved in becoming computer literate and the frustration of trying to learn from younger people who often don’t understand that many older adults have no, nada, 0, knowledge of this technology and need to be taught, from scratch. But, at the same time, both Johnnie and I have reaped the benefits of gaining access to cyberspace. It has allowed us to get back into school, to learn so much and to stay connected with friends, family, and the wider world in a way impossible to those who aren't 'plugged in'. We understand why many people our age have resisted, but we see that because of their resistance, they have, in ways, been left out and left behind. With more resources becoming available that cater to the needs of older adults who want to become computer literate, and more technology becoming available to address the needs of aging adults, it might just be time for the hold outs to come on board.

Although adoption is increasing, studies show that 1/4 of the adult population is not connected to the internet and remain isolated from digital life. (Pew Research, "Older Americans and Technology Use", 2013) and (Strother, "Retiring to Cyberspace" Research, 2013). There are several reasons for this divide, one is due to the fact that many in the population cannot afford to buy computers and other services related to them. This means internet use among low-income adults is much lower than among the general population of older adults. Another reason for this statistic is older adults are not convinced that internet use is safe and will not unduly invade their privacy. Nor are they convinced that these technologies will improve the quality of their lives. Then there is the false belief that it is too difficult to learn as one ages, that, “ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. And, then there is another reason older adults have not jumped on the technological bandwagon, which is difficult to articulate. As we age, so much changes. The street we grew up on, our neighborhood, our town, often become unrecognizable. The music changes, the mores. And, then the people we grew up with start passing on. We often feel isolated, as though we are strangers in a strange land. We want to cling to something that is familiar, to the ways we have always done, at least, some things! So, here comes this new technology that truly does change everything, so quickly. Sometimes we just want to scream, “Please, no more change! Give me something familiar!”. But, resisting this technology, change, leaves older adults feeling even more isolated, even more alien and alone.

When older adults understand the many ways using computers and smart phones can benefit them, they are much more motivated to break through the afore mentioned barriers. In fact, using technology can help seniors remain socially active, physically fit, and emotionally healthy. Computers/technology can be used to stay engaged with friends and family, to return to school or to the workplace, if desired, even to stay independent, longer. The use of technology can help older adults learn to communicate in new and exciting ways.

Of course, both DJ and I count continuing education as one of the highest motivations for seniors to learn computers. DJ returned to school in her 50s to finally realize her long held dream of going to art school and, because one of my greatest joys is in learning something new, I am enrolled in the GSU_62 program. But, continuing education is not restricted to attending a University. Since learning is a life-long pursuit, one can learn anywhere at any time. I am reminded of, and inspired by, my father and how he embraced learning. As an only child of a sharecropper, his formal education ended when he was old enough and strong enough to hold a mule in tow. As a father, he determined that his children would have every opportunity to learn. At the same time, he read everything he got his hands on, to included newspapers, old encyclopedias and dictionaries, and especially the Sears and Roebuck Catalog (which had some even more important uses). He kept up to date until 2002, and died at 95. He did not have the opportunity to experience ICT, but he would have loved it. He always enjoyed tinkering with motors and machines anyway. Since I, too, love learning and have such wonderful tools at my disposal, I am compelled to learn as much ICT as possible. Two very important Georgia State students have also been my inspiration exemplifying the statement that, “It is never too late to learn”. The first of these is Ernest Welch, (the man for whom the School of Art and Design is named). He earned his degree at GSU in Photography at the age of 93. He taught himself to use the computer. Then, there is Joyce Lowenstein who went back to college at age 87, and expects to graduate this year with a degree in Art History. She never learned to type, but when she graduates, she looks forward to taking an online certification courses and begin a new career as an Art Appraiser. There goes that false belief that after a certain age one is too old to learn new tricks (technologies!).

Computer classes are now available at many public libraries, universities, community centers, and health care facilities. There are courses designed to address the needs of seniors and how they learn. There are also online courses, where one can work on their own schedules, through Organizations like AARP, Senior Planet, and TechBoomers.



These organizations are in the forefront of this movement to increase older adult usage of the internet. They do everything possible to make it easier for seniors to become computer literate and more by offering a plethora of free online courses and tools that are non-threatening and easier to use than may be expected. All that is needed is the will and desire to learn.

In conclusion, the very things that many seniors are most concerned about: staying in touch with their families, feeling that they still have a role to play in this fast-changing world, avoiding isolation, and staying healthy and independent are things that technology can help with. From Skyping to connect with children and grandchildren who might be half a world away, finding groups of like-minded people to ‘chat’ with (and maybe even finding a mate!), exercising with an online yoga group, to keeping up with the latest music, there are so many ways that using computers and smartphones can help to keep the problems that come with aging at bay. It is time for all of us seniors, to come on board! If there is still some hesitation about getting connected, remember Ernest and Joyce. They went through the same uncertainties as the rest of us who have struggled with ICT. They did not allow their fears to prevent them from pursuing their goals of being part of the exciting world of the internet. There is room for all of us in Cyberspace.


Pew Research Center Library Survey "Older Americans and Technology Use." Adam Smith @ www.pewresearch.org. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science, and Technology.

Strother, Carol S. "Retiring to Cyberspace: Factors Influencing Older Adult's ownership of Computer Technology and Internet Usage at the time of Retirement." Theses, Georgia State University, 2013.