The digital age and elderly people

Technology is developing at an unparalleled pace nowadays, new software, devices, techniques and accessories being released almost daily. As soon as you are getting used to the latest device, a new, more high-tech, high quality, high-resolution, etc. version is released. This can be very overwhelming and hard to keep up with for many people in our society, including myself sometimes. But keeping up and understanding the high-tech devices that are all around us is even harder when you grew up in a time where digital technology wasn’t really a thing yet. 

Dutch advertisement for an automated washing machine from the 50s

My grandmother once told me that when she was a little girl, her mother was the first in the street to get a washing machine. That was phenomenal at that time, a real washing machine at home, just imagine! Around the same time the first televisions were being brought into homes, drawing all the kids from the neighbourhood to watch the kids show on one of the three available channels. Telephones were still very much attached to a machine plugged into the wall and had the form of what is now seen in our phone icon, the only reminder we still have of it. These technological developments were so innovative and phenomenal at that time, that it was inconceivable that about half a decade later these devices were ubiquitous and that the first wireless mobile phone would be a thing. Let alone the fact that some 20 years later everything is done over the internet through the most advanced smartphones and wireless accessories. 

I have seen many eyes, belonging to mostly elder people, grow wide when their (grand)child got out their phone to pay for the meal or just flipped their wrist to put their smartwatch on the scanner. This was also the case when smartphones started to take over the world, all my grandparents held off on getting one because “why would you need all those functions, a phone should be able to call and that’s it”. When the world evolved further they hesitantly started looking into it and informing themselves about the uses and benefits of such a smartphone. But the real trouble began when they actually invested in such a device…

My grandmother, who is a very intelligent and curious woman, thought it would be nice to get a book about how to work with her new phone, so off to the library she went.

Voor Dummies - Android-smartphones voor dummies
Android-smartphones voor Dummies

She indeed found a book (I think it was this one) and admittedly came very far, but some basic knowledge was still to be desired so she called me and my parents to come and help her out. As I had become used to working with a smartphone, it was hard for me to explain its usage to her properly. I had only so many ways of helping her understand how to make a screenshot or how to install a picture as her background. 

My grandfather got a lot less far, understanding the very basics of the for him new, for us old Iphone but having to call me or my cousins whenever he wanted to take a picture. The frustration is always palpable when he doesn’t understand something or when invoices ask him to transfer the money by use of a QR code or through links in his email. He just doesn’t understand how it all works and can’t remember what we explained to him, no matter how hard he tries. He even followed some computer classes for seniors that actually seemed to work and help him understand the basics he needs to function in this digitized world. 

And just today I spoke to my other grandmother about my birthday that is coming up and she was telling me about her new hearing aid she just got. She was very happy with them because they were so small and easy to use, they weren’t flying around when she removed her glasses or fixed her hair and you could even charge them wirelessly! She did have to call the company again, because she believed there were some other features that might be nice to have, like being able to play music through them. Her enthusiasm was adorable even though it was very clear that she didn’t know what she was talking about half of the time. 

Whether elderly people get frustrated or enthusiastic when they have to deal with new technological issues or devices, it is important for us to remember that it isn’t all logical for them. The ease with which I navigate the web and use the features available on my smartphone, doesn’t come naturally to my grandparents and indeed often causes them stress and frustration. The fact that letters are slowly being exchanged for email and the possibility of calling a bank is discouraged in favor of asking a robot online, is a hard pill to swallow for my grandfather who just doesn’t understand how to really these new techniques. And the same goes for many other things in contemporary life that are becoming more and more digitized and mobile.