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“I’ve lived over 60 years without a computer and won’t start now,” a friend’s mother told him.

“Mom, you have to start now. It will be easier now than when you’re 70,” her son told her.

Then he continued with the jaw dropping clincher, “You had better learn to use a computer now, while you can, before you get old and using a computer is the only thing you have left that you CAN do.”

I would never have had the guts to say that. But he’s right. It’s easier to learn now than it is to learn later.

Computer technology and social media offer outlets never before available to those who face physical challenges. They have an opportunity to connect with the outside world, whether it’s beautiful outside or there’s an ice storm.  New tech changes will make it that much easier for older people to stay independent and involved.

Skype is a growing trend among seniors who want to stay connected with family members in other areas. Some families have dinner together via Skype.

How do you help an older family member or friend be more independent on the computer? When I’ve worked with senior citizens, the following helped.

  1. Go slow. Repeat often. Write down steps and have them follow the steps with you.
  2. Have them click the mouse. If you take over the mouse, they will never learn to click.
  3. Begin with solitaire. This teaches them to drag and drop, click, and double-click. Explain what click, double click, and right click are used for.
  4. If double-clicking is a challenge with a traditional mouse and they want to use a mouse, teach them to hold the mouse still and think “tap tap” instead of “double click.” The words “double click” have fricative sounds, and people jiggle their hands more with those sounds than when they think “tap tap.”
  5. Spend time teaching them to minimize, maximize, and close windows.
  6. Make sure they understand how to cut, copy, and paste.
  7. Help them save photos to a place where they can find them later.
  8. Be sure their system is backed up.
  9. Repeat the same topic several times if needed.
  10. Make sure they have shortcuts to get to the programs they use most often – most likely email and maybe social media.

If you’re a senior, what poses the biggest computer challenge to you? If you’ve helped senior family members, what tips can you share to help others?

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In 1989, jobs were hard to find in a lousy economy. I landed a job for a physics department that would let me continue taking classes. Problem: I knew nothing about computers, and the job required it. I was a fast typist, and they decided to risk hiring me. My first day on the job, the dept. head gave me a handwritten syllabus. I typed and printed it, no problem. He looked at the file setup and refused it, telling me, “You used a word processor as a glorified typewriter. Here’s a book. Figure out what you did wrong and make it right.”

It took me 3 days to create a 3 page syllabus he would accept. When he finally accepted my work, I was so furious I was ready to quit. He then told me, “I know you’re angry. I know you’ve just spent 3 days wandering blind alleys figuring out how to do this. But each blind alley you went down taught you things you will need to know. It will get easier.”

And so began my trial by fire computer training. Part of my job involved clerical work on a NASA research project. It was old Internet days, with manual dial up handshake commands that had to be typed in a line at a time. I was supposed to load files to a CRAY supercomputer, download the results, and then convert those results to graphs.

On my first day on the job, not a single command worked when I tried to log onto the CRAY.  Exasperated, I called NASA, thinking I had to be the dumbest computer user on the planet. Response?

“You’re following yesterday’s instructions. Everything changed today.”

“When will I get today’s instructions.”

“Most  likely in 6 months. But I’ll tell you the steps to follow.” He walked me through the new handshake procedures.

And so began my year of learning to use a computer, on the job, with deadlines, when things changed every single day, before I had a chance to learn how to use them beforehand.

I had no idea when I started that job that it would change my life. Computer software eventually made sense. Within 6 years, I was a computer network administrator for a network of 50 computers for a law firm.  For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer and have trained at least 3,000 people in how to use computers on their jobs.  In recent years, that has also branched into training them on social media. My experiences learning on the fly help me be a more empathetic teacher.

With social media, things change daily. Buttons move, features have different words, and more. It reminds me of my first day using a computer, 21 years ago. Yesterday’s instructions don’t quite work, and we figure out today’s procedures by the seat of our pants. It’s frustrating.

My lesson from years ago: embrace the change.

The blind alleys you stumble in, as you seek today’s instructions, are preparing you to handle tomorrow’s bigger computer challenges.

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“Young people get this stuff easier.”

For 14 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer. My biggest success story was a 70 year old lady who learned to keyboard and moved up to designing databases in 6 months.  She said, “If I can outlive 2 husbands in marriages of more than 20 years each, I can learn to use a computer.”

The biggest challenge is overcoming the Fear Factor.  I tried an experiment that can help. 

I did turnabout with high school students.  I divided 10 students into 2 teams and brought in typewriters for the challenge. One team had an electric typewriter, and the other had a manual. They had an assignment to type a page of text in an hour. I gave them 0 instructions on how to use a typewriter.

Questions asked:

  • Where’s the printer?
  • This typewriter needs a new toner. (I showed how to rotate the ribbon wheel.)
  • You have to push this bar for EVERY line?

It took each team at least 5 minutes to figure out how to put a sheet of paper into the typewriter.  Within an hour, each team had typed a paragraph.

I got out a bottle of liquid paper and told them, “This is spellcheck.”

After the challenge, I noted their frustration.  Then I told them I learned to type on a manual typewriter and remember when my school got a single row of electric typewriters. 

Then I told the teens that the amount of change I had encountered would be miniscule to what they will see by the time they are my age.

Finally, I added – to be open to the challenges those changes present. 

Never quit learning. Broaden your horizons. Try something new.

Yes, when I got my Android it took me a month to use it comfortably. My teens had to show me how to make a phone call and answer it. But I did learn it.

You can learn it too.

Think of it as a tiptoe through the typewriters to the 21st century.

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