For a lot of older adults, adopting digital technology – and learning how to navigate and use the Internet as a fundamental part of that – can be a daunting task. Many express similar reservations about taking their first steps towards crossing the so-called “digital divide” that separates the current generation from previous ones. But even if you are a senior, getting your feet wet in the Internet doesn’t have to be hard. If you know where to look, there are plenty of resources out there that can make wading into the ocean of the Internet a much less stressful and hazardous experience then it might at first seem.
— Sticky Password (@stickypassword) October 17, 2015
What are some of the things that make older adults reluctant to use digital technology & the Internet?
1. Fear of the unknown
As with most things in life, it’s only natural to be a bit hesitant to try something completely new and not well understood. This is no truer than with the Internet and digital technology, as new devices, programs, and innovations are being developed and introduced on an almost daily basis. And, of course, there are the horror stories of people having their computers destroyed by viruses, or having their online information stolen or swindled from them by hackers and scammers. It’s little wonder that many older adults are in no hurry to get on the Internet and start using the latest gadgets, despite these things becoming increasingly commonplace – and, as some would argue, essential – in our everyday lives.
2. The time, effort, and commitment involved
For so-called “digital immigrants” who haven’t grown up surrounded by digital technology, learning how to use it is akin to learning a completely different language. In many ways, this analogy is quite literal; new terms and phrases have been created to describe facets of digital technology, and many existing words have been repurposed towards this end as well. And this trend will only continue as more and more new digital technologies and Internet applications are introduced.
For older adults, learning basic computer skills and terminology and then making the leap to using advanced Internet and mobile devices can be mentally overwhelming, even if only in the abstract. Many simply say that they are “too old“; they believe that they have reached a state in their lives where the effort spent learning how to use the Internet and digital technology will far outweigh any benefits that they might get from doing so.
3. Lack of credible learning resources (or at least knowledge of how to find them)
The question remains, though, for the older adults out there who want to learn how to integrate the Internet and digital technology into their lives, where are they going to learn how to do so. The most obvious source of education would be their children and grandchildren, the so-called “digital natives.” But they have their own lives, too; they’re often busy studying for school or working at their jobs or careers. As such, they aren’t always available to help their parents or grandparents with in-person hands-on technology training.
Another possible solution for older adults wanting to learn digital technology is to learn just enough about the Internet to figure out how to find online technology training information, and then learn on their own. But it is a well-known problem with the Internet that it contains an excessive amount of information, a significant portion of which is redundant, outdated, or simply false. Whose advice on learning digital technology should older adults rely upon, then?
What can older adults do to make learning how to use digital technology and the Internet easier?
1. Connect with trusted sources of education and information nearby
Technology training resources aren’t as hard to find as one might think. Many local libraries and senior-oriented organizations periodically offer digital technology courses and seminars, with topics ranging from basic computer skills (such as how to write a word document or email) to more advanced lectures on how to avoid specific types of Internet threats. There are also websites out there dedicated to providing these types of lessons so that people can learn on their own, once they have the basics down. One such website is www.Techboomers.com.
2. Find and use tools that make Internet use safer and more accessible
For those worried about the dangers of – and other physical/mental barriers to – using digital technology and the Internet, knowing that there are plenty of accessibility tools out there that can help. Many are made by people who have mastered how digital technology works, and who also understand that people who are less experienced might run into obstacles as they get started. A fundamental tool of this type is, for example, antivirus software, which protects computers by scanning for, identifying, and blocking or deleting viruses and other programs that are designed to damage and steal from computers.
Another is a password manager, like Sticky Password. This type of program stores information needed for accessing various private website accounts (including passwords, and user names and other credentials), and lets it be used when needed with just a few mouse clicks. So, in essence, users only ever need to remember one password: the one that keeps their secure Sticky Password account safe!
3. Learn together with someone you trust
One way to potentially lessen the anxiety associated with trying to learn digital technology for the first time is to learn alongside a trusted companion who is doing so, too. This could be a spouse, a best friend, or an acquaintance you’ve met at a technology training course. By partnering with a person with a similar skill level, there isn’t as much pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to get things right quickly as there might be with someone who is well-versed in the ways of digital technology. It may even speed up the learning process a bit if both parties share tips, tricks, and other discoveries with each other. This helps to keep the learning at an even pace, instead of one party figuring things out quickly while the other struggles and falls behind.
That’s our summary of some of the issues that older adults face when trying to learn how to use digital technology and the Internet, and what can be done to smooth the process. We hope that these observations and pieces of advice give you the insight you need to set sail on your Internet maiden voyage!
About the author
Corbin Hartwick is Educational Content Writer at Techboomers. Techboomers.com is a free educational website that teaches older adults and others with limited computer skills how to use popular and trusted websites on the Internet.