Why Older Generations Have Trouble with Technology

Technology is either hit or miss with older generations. Some are adopting iPads, smartphones and the internet into their lives, others are barely keeping their head above water, and some are refusing to adopt any technology into their lives. Coming from a younger generation, we have all experienced difficulties with explaining why we need social networks, pocket computers, and why we spend a scary amount of our free time in front of a computer monitor. While we must respect our elders and their cultural and personal lives, we must also acknowledge that sometimes their resistance to technology is not the wisest choice. Technology has given us the ability to connect with people from around the world, the ability to immediately access the world's knowledge from anywhere there is a cell-phone signal, and even automate countless jobs.

Age is not the only factor when it comes to adopting technology. I know people younger than me who refuse to integrate technology into their lives to the level of the norm. They get by fine, but when I see them using road maps, calculating their finances on paper, and carrying 7 books for a vacation trip, I can't help but try to offer solutions to save them time, money and frustration.

I took some time to try and think why the older generations have difficulties adopting technology. I came up with 5 main reasons that may give some explanation to the resistance of elderly adoption of modern day technology:

Reason #1. It was not present during the curiosity phase

Think back to when you were between 6 and 12. You were probably very curious about the world. You wanted to learn how things work, why they work, and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Maybe you weren't anticipating the ability to do your taxes, but maybe you wanted to learn how a car engine works, or why the sun moves across the sky, or even how a website turns 0s and 1s into a fully interactive system. Depending on what you were exposed to as a child and what you took interest in, you may have carried this passion to learn all the way into your adult life. I remember as a kid playing with old DOS computers, taking apart the TV remote, and even trying to upgrade my own computer in the early 2000's. I sought my passions because I carried the obsession into my older years.

Reason #2. Being used to physically handling the work/task

Previous generations didn't grow up with computers and the internet. They grew up with a more mechanical system. Things such as cars, household appliances, and construction were major points of interest before the internet and home computer. Everything was done with physical matter and it worked logically. My parents and grandparents have a history of being very handy. My grandparents built some amazing things, fixed their own cars/machinery, and even did their own electrical work. These skills are related to modern day technology, but there was less of an abstract idea running in automotive repair or building a foundation to a house. Everything could be seen, built, taken apart, inspected, etc. If you wanted to know how Facebook worked today, you would need to break apart abstract code. The code isn't even actually in front of you. It is actually a configuration of electrons, abstractly converted into 1s and 0s, turned into a series of lengthy and complex code, and then turned into your interface through your web browser's programming. This is a little more complex than an engine that converts combustion into mechanical energy or geometrically laying out 2x4s(Don't misinterpret this as saying mechanical or construction knowledge is less advanced or complex, but it is a different style of complexity and much of the complexity of technology systems is hidden or unobtainable by the public).

When the elderly see modern day technology, they are seeing several levels of complexity that shields them from building a foundation on the subject. This can be very difficult to learn if there is no strong foundation. Many times, I have heard of stories where someone from an older generation would print out and email to scan and re-attach it in an email in order to send it to another recipient. Why, you ask? Well, think of it as if they were handling a normal letter through the Post Office, and their actions are justified.

Reason #3. Evolution of technology is fast... really fast

Moore's Law states that technology advances at an exponential rate. We have witnessed this to be true over the years. Systems have become more and more complex since the birth of the Internet. We started from simple text communication over analogue lines to digital transfer of graphics, interactive systems, video, and now we are growing faster and faster in many areas. It is reasonable to say that technology is growing too fast for everyone to grasp it fully. Only those with a sincere interest or constant exposure can truly keep up with the every-increasing growth of modern day technology. Even then, it is truly impossible to monitor all areas of technology. I can focus on Mobile Platforms for a month, but in the meantime, quantum computing advances, HTML may adopt new standards, fiber optic communications can grow, computer benchmarks can advance, etc. This may be one of the reasons that parents and grandparents are intimidated by technology. It is simply growing too fast to be grasped.

Not too long ago, someone I know jumped from a traditional phone to a smartphone. They got a smartphone that allowed the user to surf the web, take good pictures, browse Facebook, and even record video. Within months, the public idea of a smartphone advanced to Android, Windows or IOS based operating systems(Android, Windows and iPhone devices) being the standard for consideration as "Smartphones". This person, being unfamiliar with technology, thought they had a smartphone that was up to date and future-proof. Within a month this person felt left out from their phone purchase because the public idea of a smartphone excluded them from the picture. In addition, the Facebook integration and other features paled in comparison to the functions of newer devices such as the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S3. This can be very discouraging for someone taking a risk and failing to hit the expectation of joining the smartphone community. Not only does it give the purchaser buyer's remorse, but it also discourages them from taking future risks in the technology field for fear of failing to reach their goal and wasting their money. They admit defeat and claim they simply "Don't get it".

Reason #4. Progress is difficult to benchmark

Technology is a very diverse field and covers many areas. I could try to break it apart into sections, but upon closer observation, each section would need to be acknowledged by subsections and I would also need to acknowledge common ground between each section. Now, for a newer user who wishes to become "technology savvy", there is no starting point. You could start with the internet and its applications, or you could start with basics of computer hardware. You could even start with mobile devices to develop a set of ideas for communication. There is no single starting section that progresses you through technology. No checklist or series of lessons will prepare you for 100% of what technology has to offer. Combine that with an always-evolving system and it can be quite scary to start.

My advice for those trying to get more involved with technology is to choose something you know. It may be something as simple as email or simple little online games that bring fun to the learning process. Look for trends and reviews from others that compare the different examples of this field and try to become familiarized with that field instead of just one single entity of it. A relative started on a simple poker website and is now trying to learn to write a blog that compares the various sites in existence. This is just one of the examples of using one field to branch out into another.

Reason #5. The user needs spare time to learn

Think about your passion. Think about how much time went into getting you where you are now. How many days of your life do you think were spent on learning and mastering a single field of knowledge. I would say that you need a full 5 days of experience with something to even have a good idea of what you're talking about. Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers notes that in order to be an expert in something, you need 10,000 hours of exposure. That's almost 417 days of exposure to the field, excluding sleep, breaks, and other committments of your life. That translates to roughly 1,251 days or 3.5 years of working full time every week of your life for 8 hours a day to become an expert in the field, excluding vacation, lunch, sick days, personal days, exposure to other fields of knowledge at work, etc.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone needs to be an expert in the field, but in order to truly "get" technology, I estimate that you need at least 1 hour of exposure per day, on average, to be fluent with basic technology. You should be doing this for about 4 years before you truly can understand the basics. Crank that up to an expert level and you need 7-8 hours per day, every day, for at least 4 years, to be an expert in the field. Not only that, but you need to keep up with trends, evolve with the technology, compliment the exposure with other related fields, and actually enjoy yourself while doing so. Look at it this way, and you can see how it is difficult for someone with a full-time job, children, and other obligations to even have the time to expose themselves to the field.


Next time Grandma or Grandpa ask you for help with technology, I hope you can be as patient as possible and understand where they are coming from. They never had the initial exposure to computers, they may not have a reference point for such abstract ideas, they're running an uphill race against the learning curve, they can't even track how well they're doing, and certainly don't have the time to master the field. When they want to know how to "open the Google", try to relate it in something they will understand. Be patient, loving, and clever when showing them the ropes. They may have changed your diaper at one point, so show them as much appreciation as possible.

 

Discussion

Do you know anyone who has difficulty with learning technology? Let us know in the comments!