Help Your Grandma With Her Kindle, Dammit!

the Digital Divide Between Generations

“What’s an emoji?”
“How do I send my email from my smart phone?”
“what’s an app?”

Sound familiar? A nightmare of almost every young person is for an older family member to discover technology, because you’re usually the one they come to when they need answers.

“You know how to use the Facebook app right? You’re technically savvy, as the cool kids say.” (Despite the fact that the cool kids do not say this).

But you want to be nice, so you answer the question and then it gets worse, because now that you have answered one question, they assume you know all the answers and you are now their go-to IT Support.

You don’t want to help all the time or you don’t have the patience or she never learns so instead, you say you’re busy or you make a date and you keep pushing it back more and more.

So then they come to me. (Huh, this is the first time I’ve really talked about my job, isn’t it?) I’m a Cyber Navigator. When originally hearing the title, I envisioned myself donning a hard hat and some rope and diving into the dark reaches of the internet with my flashlight and a stick (to fight the trolls). What I actually do is much simpler (and safer, I mean have you seen some of those trolls?). I teach people how to use technology. From how a computer works (no, it’s not magic. Why yes, I have seen the inside of a computer, and I can assure you there aren’t little people making it work) to how to use Youtube or fill out IDES forms, tablet to smart phone to computer, I spend my time helping people navigate it all.

“Back in my day, we didn’t have classes on the computer.”
“I’ve touched a typewriter before, is it similar?”
“I’ve always wanted to learn, but my daughter, she’s so busy.”
“My grandson keeps saying he’ll teach me, but he hasn’t yet and I need the skills now.”

Regardless of what they need it for, computers or smart phones are intimidating technology.

Which brings up another thing. Please don’t buy your older family members e-readers and tablets (or the occasional Mac) when they’ve never touched them before, and then just leave them with it like they’re just suddenly gonna figure out how to use it? I had a woman who came in the other day to learn how to use her “new” e-reader tell me she’d forgotten about it for six months or so and had been using it to balance the edge of her tv. Can you imagine the shock on my face?

The problem was, she had no idea how to work it and as far as she knew, no one could show her besides her, son who was too busy for her (Shame on you, Robert! Shame!).

But the older a person gets, the less I find that people are willing to attempt to use new technology themselves. I’ve even broken down to what I think the root reason is: a fear of consequences. I constantly get people who tell me they’re afraid to touch it. When not typing, they keep their hands away from the keyboard or mouse like it’s going to bite them. It takes a while to convince people that the computer is not going to break if they press the wrong thing (unless it’s marked self destruct).

In the case of that patron, she and many like her had never had a reason to touch a computer (or tablet, smart phone, etc.) before. It simply wasn’t necessary for a lot of jobs. Back in the old days (circa early 2000s?), you filled out an application on paper, in the store, shook the manager’s hand and waited for a reply. Say you did touch a computer for work? In several of the cases I see, it was for one or two specific tasks and that was it. A lot of older people are genuinely happy not to touch them, after all, what need have I for it? But often, a point in time arrives where that changes, usually without warning.

They lose their job. The form to fill out is now online. A best friend has moved across the country and the only way to contact them is through email. Different reasons lead them to the same place. They sit down at a computer and suddenly find themselves outpaced.

Not like nowadays where most kids grow up learning the computer. It’s not uncommon on the bus or train to see a toddler with their parent’s phone in hand, just pressing away. Computer classes are in a lot of schools or you can go to the library and finish homework. Children to teens also spend more time just learning it themselves. A move I applaud because computers aren’t intuitive. It’s easier if you have a smart phone, because a tablet is basically a large smart phone(have you seen the Samsung Galaxy Mega? Basically a small tablet?).

When your family asks you for help, it’s not just about learning how Twitter works (most people I work with don’t get Twitter, or most social media at all, honestly. Except Facebook, that they grasp enough to add their younger family members: you), it’s an opportunity for you two to bond over something familiar to you.

Take the time. Teach your grandma how to use her Kindle. You might find yourself in her spot one day.