How to take the pain out of teaching tech to old people, from Netflix to Zoom
- Many of us have spent time this year explaining to elderly relatives over the phone from far away how to connect to Zoom, or use Netflix
- Letting them know they won’t break stuff if they make a mistake, and making a manual – something old folks are used to reading – can make tech trouble-free
Do all your chats back home to Mom these days start, “You’re on mute. The button’s lower left”? Or have you at least once in the last nine months asked Grandpa if you could FaceTime the back of his TV set as a way of helping him find the strange beast known as an HDMI port?
If so, you’re not alone; you’re part of an ever-growing group of people trying to help their less tech-savvy loved ones zip into Zoom, nip onto Netflix and master gadgets like robot vacuum cleaners and Wi-Fi picture frames from a greater distance than usual thanks to the global pandemic.
And, chances are, you found it a tiny bit frustrating to spend something close to 14 hours talking through something that you easily could have done in 14 seconds.
But do not fret, there is still hope for the future.
According to the folks who work at the intersection of ageing and technology, getting a Boomer on Zoom or teaching the home team to live-stream from some faraway place – or, indeed, any other digital tasks – can not only be completely stress-free but also life-enriching and empowering, if you take the right approach.
To that end, find below some things to keep in mind as we hurtle toward the end of the year.
1. Instil confidence
“Younger generations have been taught to fudge around [with technology] and hack,” said Lisa Cini, author of Boom: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, So That You Can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive.
“This generation was not taught that at all. They were taught that technology was dangerous and not to mess with it. Back in their day there were tonnes of little kids that were killed by power points. When you do not comprehend it, you get scared you’ll break it.”
Cini says the result is the fear that an errant button push or mis-swiped finger will render the piece of technology at hand totally useless. That is why it’s important, she says, to underscore – often – that nothing they do to today’s tech gadgets will result in irreversible damage.
That is an approach echoed by Alex Glazebrook, director of operations for Older Adults Technology Services, a 16-year-old non-profit organisation in the United States that helps the elderly make the most of the technology around them.
“[Telling them] ‘You cannot break it’ is where we start from,” he said. “We try to really calm people’s nerves and try to make them feel like they’re in control, that they can do this. [If we build that] confidence, they’ll be successful.”
2. Take it step by step
When it comes to helping the less tech-savvy set explore a new gadget or service, both Glazebrook and Cini likened it to learning a foreign language – both literally and figuratively; a process best done by taking it step by step.
“If you think of it as a language, once [you] start talking through things you’ll realise there are a lot of little things we take for granted as a common language that are not,” Cini said. “Simple things like ‘swipe left’, ‘swipe right’ or ‘click on the hamburger [icon]’ that they do not even have the capacity to understand. … If I was learning Greek, it would be very frustrating for me.”
Glazebrook said approaching new technology like foreign-language learning is helpful because both are about adding to a knowledge base piece by piece over time. “When you learn a language it builds,” he said. “You learn nouns, you learn verbs, [you learn] conjugation and then sentence structure, you build complexity.”
3. Make a manual
Cini says creating an easy-to-follow guide complete with photos, pointer arrows and clear, detailed instructions (even as basic as “press the enter button”) can go a long way towards flattening the learning curve and empowering people.
“This is a generation that is used to fixing their own cars and bicycles,” she said. “And they’re used to looking at manuals. So if you can create a good set of step-by-step instructions – with visuals – and print it out and maybe even laminate it for them, they’ll be able to refer to it and not have to worry about remembering all the steps.”
Glazebrook said that at the beginning of the pandemic the most requested help had to do with connecting via video. “There were a lot of requests for [help with] Zoom because people were really just trying to stay connected and Zoom kind of came out of the gate as a leader,” he said. “After that it was a lot of access-to-services type stuff, people needing access to home grocery delivery or to their financial institutions.”
Cini pointed out that of all the tech skills to master, getting the Boomers to Zoom has an additional upside.
“Video chats are really important,” she said. “You can see their facial expressions, you can see if they’ve lost weight. Most seniors have hearing issues and read lips. If they can see your face it’s a lot easier for them to understand you.”
And with happiness such a scarce commodity these days – and the likelihood that we’ll be gathering together from afar for the foreseeable future – that is the kind of life hack worth taking the time to teach.