Seniors: Know a Luddite? How to Get Them to Talk Tech

Young people might think they’ve cornered the market on communicating using technology, but that’s definitely not the case, especially after the last two years. So many older adults are embracing the power that is literally at our fingertips, and staying in touch with loved ones across states, countries, and continents, or just keeping their weekly meetups with friends or grandchildren going no matter what the situation. And we’re incredibly grateful that we have the means to do so! Well, maybe not all of us feel that way: there are plenty of seniors who are a bit tech shy, shall we say, and you probably know a few of them. So how can you get the Luddites in your life to get on board with using technology, so you can stay connected? 

Seniors and Tech Can Be Friends!

wifi symbol with a red X over it
Some studies show that over 40% of older adults don’t have the internet at home.

Have you ever had a friend say to you, “Oh, I don’t have email,” or “Social media? Nope, not for me?” or even “I don’t do video chatting, I’ll never be able to figure it out!”? If you’re an older adult you’ve probably heard something like that from a friend at some point: in fact, according to some counts, almost a third of seniors don’t use the internet at all, and some studies show that over 40% of older adults don’t have the internet at home.

And the thing is that a lot of younger people, or even tech companies, can’t seem to grasp exactly why that is – or more, accurately, they think they know why, but they might not be getting it quite right. Those who aren’t older adults tend to just brush off some seniors’ resistance to technology as a hopeless inability to learn new skills related to using tech, which is definitely not a helpful way to look at things.

But you know better than that! After all, you’ve learned how to do what you want to do online, and so can your tech-resistant friends. The keys to unlocking their potential? Patience, of course, and a few helpful suggestions, but also a focus on the most important part of that sentence above: you have learned what you want to do online. For many tech-resistant seniors, the issue is not just feeling like they might not be able to learn new tech (although some have that worry), it’s that they need to feel like the tech they’re using

 has value for them, and aligns with their values. 

So, with those thoughts in mind, how can you give your tech-resistant friends practical advice for learning about tech, as well as get them on board with actually using it? 

Dealing with Practical Objections

First things first: let’s take a look at some of the practical issues that your older friends or loved ones might have, and deal with some of their possible objections to using tech.

“I don’t even have the internet at home”

As we pointed out above, some seniors don’t even have the internet at home, and they might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of figuring out how to get it, and/or think it would be too expensive, anyway. Remind them that their cable company can easily add internet service to their package, and a technician will set up everything. Have them ask the technician to show them how to set up their wifi network on their device if they’re worried about getting online once all is said and done!

If they’re worried about the cost of internet service, tell them that, in addition to many cable companies offering bundled deals with cable service, many also offer discounted rates for low-income individuals, seniors over 65, or even anyone who receives Social Security benefits – it’s worth it to help them check out the options in their local service area! In addition, the government was offering a program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit during the pandemic, which has now been converted to a permanent program called the Affordable Connectivity Program that expands the number of people eligible for reduced-price internet service. Check it out here, and talk to your friend/loved one about their eligibility!

If they are absolutely resistant to having internet service at home, suggest they person on a laptop

  • Visit their local library, which will most likely offer free internet access/computer use;
  • Talk to them about getting a device that uses data instead of wifi (like a smartphone or tablet; or
  • Tell them about wireless hotspots in public spaces where they can use a device and connect to the internet

“I don’t know how to use this technology, and I’m not sure how to get help”

Ok, this is the big one, right? Your friend/loved one might be a bit skittish about learning new tech skills, because they’ve been told (maybe not in so many words, but still…) that they won’t be able to, or they come across unhelpful people. In fact, while one survey showed that around 44% of seniors went to their adult children first for help with tech questions, their adult children tended to be unhelpful, impatient, or unwilling to help. Yikes!

So if that’s the case, it’s time to try, try again. The same survey showed that grandchildren were far more likely to be willing to help (although they were more likely to fix an issue themselves and not teach their grandparents more overarching skills). In fact, after some older adults saw that their friends had learned skills from their grandchildren, they then gained more confidence, realizing “If they can do it, so can I!”

Grandchildren not the way to go? Suggest these other options:older man holding up a cell phone

  • YouTube videos – Not confident enough to explain things to your friend/loved one yourself? That’s totally fine – in fact, all you need to be able to do is open YouTube for them! YouTube can actually be a better resource for older adults trying to learn new tech skills than a friend or family member, because it allows them to search for content and watch at their own pace, as many times as needed. And studies show that once older people are past a certain knowledge threshold, they can independently search for information on how to use technology, meaning you’ll have taught them to fish, so to speak. 
  • The local library – Some libraries offer classes on using tech to seniors, which could be a great free, low-pressure, and social option for gaining confidence. If their library doesn’t offer this, a local school, college, or community center might.
  • Online resources for seniors – This might sound like too much for them if they’re wary of internet use, but there are a lot of websites with blogs and webinars out there that cater specifically to seniors, and often address this topic. Some even have hotlines seniors can call, taking off the pressure to go digital right away. For example, they can try the National Senior Planet Tech Hotline at 888-713-3495 to get some answers to their questions.

Dealing with Values-Based Reluctance

As we pointed out above, and as you might have even felt yourself, some older adults are resistant to using technology because it doesn’t seem to align with their values – it’s just not them. So how can you respond to those types of concerns?

“I don’t see the point of taking the time to learn this stuff”

We think this is the easiest objection to combat. There’s a whole world of advantages out there for seniors who are connected – and the number one is that they can stay connected to you, right? Tell them how you stay connected online to those you love, and how being online could enhance your relationship with them, as well as their relationships with other loved ones. Learning the simple skills it takes to use Zoom, for example, could mean much more frequent “visits” with faraway friends and family, or even loved ones who live close by but don’t get out much!

In addition, if they’re online, they can:network of people connected with lines

  • Join online support groups for people with similar medical conditions
  • Stay engaged with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if it’s hard for them to get out and about all the time
  • Actually save time once they learn how to download and use apps like Instacart, which would allow them to shop for groceries from home

“Using tech means giving up your privacy, right?”

Some seniors feel confident that they could learn how to use technology, and get themselves on social media or start shopping for their groceries from the comfort of their own homes, but it’s just not worth giving up their privacy. After all, once you post on social media sites, it’s out there for all to see, and companies do track your shopping habits and require using your credit card. There are a few suggestions we can give here, like:facebook webpage

  • Suggest they use Facebook if they want to stay connected via social media. They can adjust their privacy settings, as well as limit the number of friends they have, so their posts will be seen by a limited number of people. 
  • Use an app like Privacy to create one-time use credit cards
  • Clear their cookies and internet cache often

“I don’t want to be glued to a device all the time”

A lot of adults look around and see people out in the world glued to their phones, when they should be enjoying the life that’s going on around them, and they find that sad. You probably agree! But there’s nothing that says they have to be constantly connected once they get online or get a device or two. Talk to them about what would have value for them in being more connected, and how they could fit those things into their lives. For example, if it’s video chatting that would be a big draw for them, suggest they make weekly dates with the people they want to talk to, and then only carry their phone for emergencies at other times. Or if it’s seeing their grandchildren’s updates while they’re studying abroad or traveling, suggest they set their social media account to only alert them to updates from them. There are ways to find a balance, and it’s them that controls the tech, not the other way around!

So if you’re a switched-on senior who’s enjoying all the advantages that technology brings right to your fingertips, but you’ve got friends and/or loved ones who are struggling either with the practicalities of being online, or with how they feel about being so connected, know that there are ways to talk to them about joining you in the digital world. Try the above ways to answer their questions and concerns, and remember that you might just be their biggest incentive to get connected! We want to hear from you: do you know a few Luddites who you’d like to bring into the digital fold? Have you tried? Or are you a convert to the world of tech?

The Truth About Seniors and Technology

How many times have you heard your children, grandchildren, or any other younger person talk dismissively, or even mockingly, about the way that older adults use technology? They might find it amusing, and they might think that the blanket generalizations they’re making are true for all seniors, but the truth is more complicated. 

First of all, tons of seniors actually do engage with technology on a regular basis: more than 70% are on the internet, up from just 14% in the year 2000, and older adults are the fastest growing demographic in the online world! Second of all, any difficulties older adults have with adopting new technologies are probably the result of various factors that are both external and internal, meaning how tech companies operate, your brain and physiology, and your wants and needs all play a role in your relationship with technology. So let’s take a look at why you might feel like you’re avoiding certain tech, how you can make using tech easier for you, and why it might actually be good for you to go all techie! 

Seniors Vs. Technology?

older looking hands holding a cell phone
Seniors use cell phones and other forms of technology more than people think!

Like we said, seniors are out there in massive numbers in cyberspace; not only that, but adults between 50 and 64 are just as likely to use smartphones as anyone in the U.S. (83% have a smartphone and 91% use computers), and 94% of people over 50 say they use technology to stay connected to friends and loved ones. And you know what else? People over 50 had spent around $84 billion on tech products by the end of the last decade- for themselves, not their grandkids! So is it really accurate to say that seniors and technology just don’t mix? Well, yes and no – but mostly no. We say partly yes because there actually are some barriers to seniors feeling comfortable with technology, whether they’re internalized or come from an external source. For example, if you’re an older adult, maybe you have the following concerns:

  • You worry about feeling “tethered” to your phone or other device
  • You have privacy concerns, or worry about being targeted by scams, like a 2019 Social Security scam that cost seniors $38 million
  • While you’d be willing to learn new technology skills when that tech has value for you, or when it seems designed with you in mind, it often doesn’t feel that way with the products out there. In other words, according to Bran Knowles, a researcher who focuses on the intersection between data systems and social responsibility, the barrier might just be “a misalignment of values and products.”

Which brings us to the other big issue with seniors and tech: if older adults do have concerns about, or limitations with, using technology, big tech companies often aren’t addressing them, or taking seniors’ wants or needs into account when designing products and software. You probably want to use tech in a way that seems valuable to you; not only that, but you might actually have physical limitations that tech companies aren’t addressing, and tech companies don’t seem to recognize that they need to make products and software intuitive for everyone. Think about it this way: if you’d grown up speaking French as a second language, you’d be pretty proficient at it, but try to become bilingual at 70? It’s just not going to come as naturally to you.

There are also things that are just inevitable parts of aging that can make tech seem frustrating; for example:

  • Vision that is not as sharp as it once was makes texting challenging
  • Minor hearing loss can make the audio on many devices seem insufficient
  • Reduced manual dexterity can make small buttons difficult to push
  • Losses in touch sensitivity can mean that touch screens react too fast

Tech companies just don’t seem to see seniors as stakeholders in their world, making them seem almost as dismissive as the grandchildren who think you’ll never learn how to use a smartphone “properly.” But again, it’s a whole chicken and egg issue: is it really that seniors can’t learn to use tech or is it that tech isn’t working for them?

What You Can Do

While we can’t make big tech companies change overnight and erase the concerns about privacy that come with being online, or change the addictive nature of all that stuff floating out there on our devices, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express our concerns to them, and make it clear that seniors need to have a seat at the table. Remember, you’re the fastest growing demographic online, so your voice should certainly matter!

With that being said, there are some things you can do in the short term to make tech less frustrating to use. For example:a hand holding a white stylus onto a tablet screen

  • Use a stylus with your phone or tablet – A simple stylus that costs only a few dollars (or some phones even come with them) can vastly improve accuracy in typing on a touch screen.
  • Try swyping instead of typing – If you’re not feeling the whole flying thumbs texting action that a lot of younger people use, try “swyping,” or sliding your finger or stylus from one letter to the next, and letting your phone do the typing for you. 
  • Use voice dictation instead of typing – You don’t actually have to text at all; you can tell your phone exactly what you want to say – and most phones are shockingly accurate these days!
  • Get an external speaker or headphones – These days, we’re spoiled for choice with inexpensive wireless speakers and headphones, so you don’t have to spend a lot to help amplify your devices.

And, while you’re trying out the techniques above, remember to use them to contact the big tech companies and voice your opinion on their products! And remember, too, to vote with your dollars and only patronize companies that you believe are interested in seeing seniors as valuable customers.

Can Big Tech Have Big Benefits?

We’ve talked a lot about why seniors often don’t seem to engage as enthusiastically or effectively with technology, but what about reasons why you should engage with it? Well, it turns out that learning new technological skills can be extremely beneficial to your brain health, and even help keep dementia at bay. Certain studies have shown that there is a link between memory and learning, including one that found that, after a period of three months, people who learned a new technological skill, like digital photography, had the most beneficial results with cognition, especially memory function, compared to study participants who just socialized, did crossword puzzles, or listened to music. And when some of the participants were studied again one and three years later? Researchers found long-lasting positive results.

So how can you tap into these benefits? Well, it takes more than just learning a new skill every once in a while; you’ve got to exercise your brain everyday – but luckily, you’ve got a handy dandy device right in your pocket that will allow you to do that! Try some of the following techie activities that can both boost your brain power and make you more comfortable noodling around with your devices:hands holding a cell phone taking a picture of the night skyline

  • Experiment with digital photography, using different filters and editing software, as well as creating and sharing albums
  • Learn a new language on your phone with an app
  • Try programming your smart home device to do new things, like control your lights or a camera attached to your doorbell
  • Learn a new skill, get DIY help, or dive into a new hobby with YouTube videos
  • Set up your own website with a simple to use, free app that is geared towards non-techies, like Wix or Weebly

The possibilities are endless when it comes to what you can do with technology, so don’t stop there! And don’t let any physical limitations stop you, either, when there are workarounds for almost any problem. You don’t have to become a tech whiz overnight, and you don’t have to love everything about technology, but if you find something of value for you in using a certain device or software, like staying connected with loved ones or exercising your brain for a healthier future, then dive right in and give it a try – you can do it!