Technology Triumphs and Terrors
The pioneering spirit of the over-70 generation
Without technology, many of us would never have connected. The daily lives of the over-70 generations today are so different from those of our grandparents. We face a never-ending parade of new technologies that make our lives easier, more connected, entertaining, and sometimes frustrating. It also means that we’ve been in constant learning and adapting mode our entire lives because of rapid innovations.
We began our lives when the world moved at a slower pace, connected by voice with telephones and radio. Definitely not as digital natives. Then came television, word processors, computers, email, the internet, smartphones, Zoom, and electric cars. Video games and robots arrived, too, but those were on the sidelines of my life. Some technologies came and went in our lifetime. Dictating machines, slide projectors, records, cassettes, fax machines, and CDs. I learned to use them all and then suddenly they disappeared.
As I look around at my peers in my town and those I’ve met in my research, I see that we 70, 80, and 90-year-olds are all over the place in terms of our comfort and skills with computers. Many of us learned skills somewhere, often in the workplace. But at the other extreme, some of us live without email or smartphones. And a few don’t even use a TV for anything but news. But older people are becoming more tech savvy and some 75% of those over age 65 use the internet. According to a 2021 Pew Research survey, 96% of those ages 18 to 29 own a smartphone compared with 61% of those 65 and older, a 35 percentage point difference. However, that gap has decreased from 53 points in 2012.
Technology is inescapable. We interact with various kinds of technology all day long. Last Wednesday, for example, I started the day listening to the news on TV. Then I went on my smartphone to read two newsletters. After breakfast, I opened my desktop computer and responded to a few emails. I used writing software to work on my new book. Next, I attended a hybrid meeting, (in-person and on Zoom), here at my retirement community. Lunch was followed by an old-fashioned nap and another Zoom meeting. Then I drove my sophisticated computer of a car to run errands. Later, I called a friend about meeting up at a play on Sunday, using my land line, which was so magical in my youth, and now nearly obsolete. After dinner with friends in the dining room, Peter and I spent a couple of hours watching Designated Survivor, our current series on TV. At the end of the evening, I read a few pages of a sleep-inducing book on my Kindle. That is what it is like to be me, to be 88, to be old in 2023. So different from how it has been for older people in all of history.
Kudos to us!
Hat’s off and kudos to us in the over-70 generations. We have learned to use all kinds of technologies that did not exist in our youth. This pioneering spirit needs to be celebrated. Most of us have made our way onto the technology train and seen how incredibly enriching it can be. A feast of knowledge, opportunity, and connection are just a click away.
“It isn’t that easy, Katharine,” you are probably saying to me at this point. And, of course, you are right, dear reader. Technology today is not always easy or a love fest. Technology can be terrifying, frustrating, annoying, and upsetting. We have all struggled to learn and keep up with the many changes. We all have friends who have paid many unnecessary dollars to hoaxes and scams.
Just yesterday my Zoom link to my Writers Group didn’t work. I panicked. I abandoned my usual optimistic adult self and for 10 minutes I floundered, tense and upset. I chided myself: “You idiot, you jerk. How stupid can you be? Any nine-year-old kid today knows how to do this. What’s wrong with you?” I went from there right into familiar lament, “I didn’t grow up with technology, I can’t learn this stuff, I am way too old to even try. I wish we could just go back to the way it was.” Finally, a member of the group sent me a new link that, of course, worked perfectly. With a little help from my friend, I resumed my life and quickly obliterated the memory of my childish collapse from my mind.
Many of us are fearful of what we have yet to face. This week there has been a flurry of excitement in the media about the newest innovation of artificial intelligence, called ChatGPT. In case this has slipped by you, this is a new interactive tool that can not only answer all kinds of questions you ask but can also churn out original essays on all sorts of subjects. And even write poems on demand. As I read about ChatGPT, I thought to myself, “Oh no. This is terrifying ….like the end of creativity. Won’t this just make everything more complicated for writers, teachers, parents, for students?
While artificial intelligence promises great change, there is no need to panic. There will always be more innovations to keep things from getting out of hand. This is my optimistic adult self taking control of this piece.
I will end with a few tips on how to live with this ever-faster-changing technology.
Tips for Living with Technology
Get help. Most people over 70 need to get used to asking for help. Ask friends or family for aid sooner than you want to. Stop being afraid to bother your children or grandchildren. It can be a point of connection. This is not the place to display self-reliance.
Hire people to help you — it is worth it if you can afford it. To get free or low-cost help, check your local libraries, Councils on Aging, and Senior Centers for technology volunteers or classes. Or find free technology support online with volunteer educational groups like Cyberseniors.
Don’t blame yourself if you have issues and problems. Technology is difficult for everyone. Even 30-year-olds can’t keep up. And it is even harder for us with aging brains as it takes longer to learn new things. But research shows we can learn if we are patient and determined and treat ourselves kindly.