Like that saying about an old dog and new tricks, there’s a stereotype that older people can’t handle the latest technology. And it’s really not reasonable to expect a senior who grew up using typewriters and telephones to suddenly become adept with today’s devices and their touchscreen interfaces.
The numbers indicate there’s some factual basis for this stereotype. According to Pew Research, over the years, a majority of adult Americans have come to use established social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook. At the same time, though, the wide variety of emerging new platforms remains confined to younger demographics.
Is this just a matter of people wanting to stick to what’s familiar as they grow older? Or is there something else at play which you can work to overcome and avoid getting left behind as you age?
In the realm of technology, companies disappear while others thrive and continue to evolve. New ones come along and develop their own user base. These changes happen constantly, at a rapid pace.
Facebook and YouTube today present different interfaces and functionality than they did in their early years. It requires some adjustment on the part of longtime users. Getting acquainted with other social media apps involves further adjustments.
These factors make it progressively less appealing for users of an older cohort to get on board with change. And that might not be a real problem with social media. After all, if you only need to stay in touch with family and friends, one app will do.
But what if you need to stay on top of changes for your work? Decades ago you could opt for Windows or Mac, and stick with proficiency in the OS of your choice. Now, you probably need to be familiar with both, as well as Android or iOS, in order to collaborate with other people, share files, and keep your apps updated.
Technology is becoming increasingly complicated for the average user. And younger people have both greater flexibility and incentive to keep pace with updates and innovations.
An unexpected burden
The growing complexity in the realm of technology is a major barrier to user-friendliness as we age. And it also gives rise to secondary problems for the user.
Consider the average household’s internet setup. You have a fiber line delivering broadband internet to your house, but only up to the router provided by your ISP. From there, it’s distributed as a wireless signal to devices in various parts of the house.
Suppose the app you’re using fails to update. You check if the problem is with your connection on one device or across all of them. If it’s just one device, you try moving to another part of the house for a better signal. Or you check the settings to see what’s wrong, or uninstall and reinstall the app in question. If everything’s affected, you reboot the router and see what happens.
You could call tech support, but it’s not just one company involved. The connection and router are handled by your ISP. Devices are supported by the OEM. Software, by the respective developers. None of them are going to help you with issues that are out of their scope.
Invariably, due to complexity, users end up shouldering a greater burden of shadow work. You aren’t being paid to diagnose and troubleshoot technology. It’s simply expected of you to do so; an additional price you pay for using it.
As older people grow out of touch with the latest developments in technology, it’s easy to dismiss it as a result of stubbornness or inflexibility in learning something new. Yet the truth is clearly more nuanced than that.
Younger generations might not see this as a real concern. But everyone ages; the problems faced by our elders now will one day become our own. And when the implications range from increased work and anxiety to lacking the new skills necessary to handle emerging technologies and jobs, you want to find ways to overcome them.
Delegate as much as you can. A lot of software solutions and services can cover everything from basic cybersecurity to memory protection. You don’t need to master every aspect of new technology to be versed in its use.
Embracing continued learning also helps. If you accept that you don’t need to know a device or program inside-out, it becomes less intimidating to navigate and familiarize yourself with it.
Above all, though, be selective in your use of technology. Don’t feel pressured to keep up with everything. Evaluate new innovations for what they can bring to your life, and how likely they are to stick around. Then you can limit complexity and concentrate on learning only a few, useful new things over the years.