The Cassia Life

Why Computers Still Intimidate Seniors

Way back when small computers became available, roughly the 1980s and ‘90s, and individuals, mostly young people, began learning how to use them, many of us seniors were quite put off. 

We still are.

And it’s not just computers that irk us, it’s almost anything born of digital technology. On a recent evening I climbed into the passenger seat of a new car driven by a friend taking us to a meeting. The dash board lights briefly blinded me, there were so many, and many of them would have been connected to electronic features. Who needs it?

Anna Sollid, 80, a resident of Augustana Apartments said she has a personal computer but would not replace it if it died. “I could do very well without it.” she says. “I do email and play card games, including gin rummy, which at times I’ve won over the computer.”

There’s no reason on our part to feel less than. After all, we of earlier generations, with no computers, designed and built the world’s present intellectual and physical infrastructures that carry us all. Quite a few years ago we crafted the luxurious 1,132’ Queen Mary Ocean Liner which carried 3,056 passengers and crew. And we popped up Chicago’s Sears Tower to pierce the sky to 1,729 feet. Again with no computer input.

Engineers on the construction job site did sometimes wield a tech-enough slide rule out of a belt-attached scabbard. Seen that lately?

Many seniors try hard to join the computer age, sometimes denying that it’s a hassle, with more discomfort and frustration than solid productivity.  We may engage in a love/hate relationship with the mighty computer, and some days go so far as to claim to friends and others that our tech savvy puts us in the mainstream of modernity.

So how many of us have a computer? Stats I was able to find show that back in 2004 in the USA the number of personal computers per 1,000 people was 865, or not far from one to one. The per capita figure no doubt has advanced considerably since.

I bought my first in 1981 and have been writing on a computer of my own most of these intervening years. Yet I cannot by any means call myself good at it. A grandson, Brian, or a neighbor friend here at Augustana Apartments bail me out of computer jams regularly.

So is there a reasonable answer to the question, “Can a senior live a contented life either (1) with, or (2) without a home computer?” Take your pick.

My own choice is to keep trying for number (1), with computer. A talk with friend Dave Raymond, 74, of South Minneapolis, sets the example for me. He engages most categories of tasks including paying bills, business management, data searches, Power Point and Excel.  Dave retired four years ago from a career in real estate development, and in recent years has developed a service of consulting with church and religious entities over management matters such as reorganization, mergers, expansions, financial challenges, etc. He is a lay leader at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis.

Remarked Dave, “I would have a hard time doing without a computer. I would not want to. Got my first computer about 1990-’91.”

I asked his view on where a senior with ordinary technical aptitude might logically apply him/her self on a home computer, what to learn and what to stick with: He suggested these: email, news, information services, order merchandise, watch movies, write personal letters.

For the novice computer user, senior or not, to save money on basic computer hardware, Dave says take a look at the current crop of Chromebook machines. They do some of the tasks that a real computer does and cost considerably less, around $100 and up.

And if you’re in geographic proximity, one can get limited tutoring at the Minneapolis downtown public library.

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