Sitting around the dinner table with my three 20s something grandchildren and one 7 -year-old granddaughter last summer, I got an idea for a gift they could each give me for my birthday. I had heard that we elders, as immigrants in the land of technology, need a “language parent” as we try to become more fluent navigating technology’s ever-changing landscape.

A language parent is someone who was born into the language and who like a good parent, can be patience and kind as they assist a person who’s just learning it. Since I played this role with my Grandchildren when they were little, I hoped they would return the favor. By the way, spouses are not recommended for this “language parent” role.   I knew that each of my grandchildren was an expert in one or more of the many tech systems I’ve been struggling to use for my business and personal communications. I made a Grandmother’s Tech Wish List and invited them to pick out something they would be willing to coach me on.

Smiles crept across their faces as they looked over the list, indicating some delight that I’d asked them. One surprise – our sessions were to be on Zoom, and they had never done Zoom before, so they got to learn something from their grandmother as well. William picked Twitter cause that’s a system he uses a lot and Tori picked Instagram. Ethan signed up to help me organize my documents and photos on my desktop. “Grandma, you might find it easier to use a mouse instead of that trackpad,” he said. That reminded me that I used to use a mouse and I hadn’t realized that some of my awkwardness was a physical coordination problem. I’m like a kid holding her pencil too tight as she’s trying to write. 

It seems like these lessons were at least a decade ago, but it’s only been about 9 months. Since then, the whole world is on zoom, relying on our computers and phone apps and platforms and programs we’d barely heard of. To live our lives in the shutdown necessitated by Covid19, our lives must be on-line. Technology is how we stay in touch with family and friends, entertain ourselves, celebrate milestones, if we’re students we complete our course work, teachers we move our teaching online. We secure needed supplies, and perform work, if we’re lucky enough to have some work.   

As a member of the high-risk age group for this virus, staring at the potential of my own death or serious illness, motivated me to get over my previous negative attitudes about technology. It’s clear I’m not going to be moving about the country freely for quite a while, so I better take back all those bad things I said about technology. I have to stop mumbling to myself about how they keep upgrading and changing things. Just about the time I learn how to do a process they change it. Haven’t they heard the expression,’ If it isn’t broke don’t try to fix it?’” 

A response to a text I sent a couple of days ago illustrates what we’re up against relying on what were familiar devices. The text was sent to two neighbors, letting them know that we had ordered some food from a nearby restaurant. If they would like to place an order from the restaurant’s Facebook menu, my husband would pick it up. Both responses came a whole day later. The first one, “Just saw your text. I am TRYING to get used to my new phone. Thanks for the offer.” The second was from a woman who had just driven home to Pittsburgh from CA. “This text just came through this morning, apparently with a whole day delay.” 

As I’ve been getting over my fear of technology and teaching my classes and presentations on-line, I do have a few suggestions for the tech industry. 1)   I know you’re proud of having three or four or more ways to do something. Such flexibility! But could I have fewer choices and clearer directions? 2)   You know those 3 teeny tiny dots you like to have in the corners of our screens? Since they often contain the menu of the functions we need, how about some bigger, shinier markings? You know, like big font print in books for elders. 3)   Let me confess. I’m not a clicker. I don’t like clicking around on the screen until I stumble onto a solution. People say you can’t hurt anything, but I have lost documents that couldn’t be recover. And after episodes of successful and unsuccessful clicking, I don’t know what I hit that caused or solved the problem, so I’m back where I started.     4)   On a more serious note –Seems that realistic expectations are what’s needed, especially during this pandemic. The promise of technology’s function and ease can’t be fulfilled with 40 -year old computer systems trying to process workers’ comp checks, or for people quarantined in rural communities with inadequate internet services, or for school children whose level of poverty has not allowed their parents to purchase devices needed for on-line learning.    

After my zoom sessions with my older grandkids, my son asked me what his 7-year-old daughter Kyra would be able to teach me? He was surprised when I told him she’s already had taught me something priceless. We were in the backseat of the car on the way to the airport and Kyra was playing some kind of a game on an iPad. The game had various levels to it but she was not authorized to access some of the higher levels, (I guess that costs money) so intermittently she came up against a barrier in her progress. Looking over her shoulder reminded me of all the intermittent technology interruptions and malfunctions I experience on a daily basis. But her reactions to these interruptions were very different from mine. Instead of blaming herself for having done something wrong, or getting mad at the designer of the game, she simply waved her hand in the air and exhaled, making a noise like she was blowing it off. She then went back to playing the game. I’ve been practicing that gesture and sound ever since then.   

Offerings and Events Our Tuesday Radical Self-Care class meets on-line at 11:30 am and the link is… 

“The Art of Grieving: Toward a Life Well-Lived” on May 28th at 4 pm eastern. Love to have you join us. Here’s the link to register

InterPlay On-Line – Friday mornings at 10:30 am click here

Looking for a personal consultation as you navigate this liminal time? Call me at 817-706-4967 or drop me a line at [email protected]