4 Lessons from a 96-Year-Old Grandpa on Learning to Adopt Technology

Derek over at consumer bell has the story of a 96-year-old explainer of technology. Bill Sleepers of Seattle is apparently not only an adopter of current technology, but also teaches others in his retirement community. Derek says Bill offers a few important realizations:

The first barrier is money, and Sleepers said you have to put (sic) able and willing to spend a little bit of cash for a computer or smart phone.

Indeed, technology is a form of an investment. Though current capabilities are tremendously cheaper than in years past, it still costs enough that those on fixed income will need to consider carefully how much capability they need. Still, Sleepers is not saying anything new. If you want to drive, you have to buy and maintain a car. If you want to compute, you need to make a baseline investment. I think most expect that. However…

What they may not expect is the ongoing cost. It used to be that purchasing a computer or electronic device was mostly a once-and-done sort of deal. Now, you need the ongoing network service or a data package to go along with, and that translates to ongoing expense — something newcomers will need to understand before investing. After I wrote 4 Hard Lessons for Older Adopters of New Technology, I added two more, one of which was “Many technologies are more than a once-and-done purchase.” Bill Sleepers mentions newcomers just need a smart phone, but a smart phone is fairly useless without paying for the data package, an ongoing cost. If this is explained to newcomers up front fits their budget, then the first stage — acquisition of the new technology — is complete. But that’s just the first barrier….

Second is attitude. “They think it’s difficult, but it’s not,” says Sleepers.

This point is huge. In all of my research for The Ultimate PC Primer, I found that, even beyond the clever analogies and explanations that would bridge the known with the unknown, I needed to put significant emphasis on encouragement throughout the entire book— to help destroy the fear, because fear is actually more powerful than intelligence. I’ve known perfectly intelligent individuals of all ages who have panicked or become practically paralyzed when put in front of a PC. Sleepers overcame the fear to develop the confidence that self-sufficient users need to continue adopting new technology. Once users realize they can do it, they often continue to assume they can do it in the future… which means they usually will.

People also have to understand that they won’t break the equipment just from normal use, he says. Don’t be afraid to use technology and other new tools.

I think this stems from a myth that computers and modern technology are always breaking or that new technology is in some way unreliable. In one chapter of The Ultimate PC Primer, I tell readers “Most computers run flawlessly for years on end.” Yet, I also admit in the same chapter that the same things that can befall any machine can also happen to a computer, and I’ll extend that to every technology. It can break, but so can a vase. That doesn’t make the vase bad. Most technology isn’t designed to break and doesn’t usually break. Newcomers need to be told not to fear engaging technology based on a handful of stories from a slim minority of users. It’s like fearing flying without understanding the statistics demonstrating the safety and reliability.

Lastly, he said a lot of people think you have to be savvy to use new technology. “The heck you do,” he says. “You do like a 3-year-old and start in. It’s amazing.”

And this point proves how wise Bill Sleepers is. He recognizes there’s no magical technology gene that makes some users better than others. We all start at the same, ignorant place, and like a young child, begin to build understanding as we continually learn. Exceptional users draw from their experiences with technology and continue to adapt. It’s not an issue of young vs. old or savvy vs. newcomer. It’s about the willingness to learn (as I mention in the Forward of The Ultimate PC Primer) and to continue to learn (as I say in the final chapter).

Derek’s article concludes with a quote from Mr. Sleepers, proving he’s far from a sleeper when it comes to engaging technology:

“Here’s how easy it is. If I can do it, anyone can”

I agree, though I’d simply add the caveat “Anyone who is willing to learn.”  My grandmother once said, “Never buy me a computer,” and we honored that request. She had cable TV, a VCR/DVD player, and an answering machine, but never a personal computer. A person opposed to learning will never do it, but a fearful newcomer just needs encouragement and lessons framed in the right way.


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