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Health & Wellness

How to Move Past Technophobia and Get Connected

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From being able to gain access to medical records to seeing your granddaughter’s jubilant face on a video chat after she scores the winning goal at a soccer match or researching vacation spots that are wheelchair-friendly, being comfortable with digital technology is an essential skill of modern life.

Most seniors are savvy when it comes to technology and, more digitally connected than ever before, according to a  2017 report by the Pew Research Center. But there remains, a “notable digital divide” when it comes to older and younger Americans, Pew says, with digital knowledge dipping among people 70 and beyond. Overall, nearly one third of people over 65 don’t use the internet, including more than half 80 and older.

The good news: it’s never too late to learn digital skills.  

Tom Kamber, is the founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS. The New York City-based nonprofit began in 2004 and has offered more than 35,000 free tech class sessions to seniors. The average age of OATS students is 74, with many in their 90s. All are apt pupils. Kamber says that in his 14 years of offering lessons, he’s never come across a single person who’s been unable to pick up basic tech skills, or whose life hasn’t been made richer by acquiring this knowledge.

“For many seniors, technology is a gateway to other activities in their lives,” he says. “The reason people should learn technology is about their personal goals and interests. It’s not really about technology itself.”  He adds, “Maybe they want to use the web to look up recipes or they want to get healthy and they’d like to find out about a local walking club for seniors. In some cases, the desire to learn technology is connected to a passion project, such as wanting to write your life story or start a home-based business.”

Digital novices, Kamber says, will need about five weeks of practice and classes to learn the basics of a new device, whether that’s a smart phone, computer or tablet. In three months, most people have reached a comfort level in activities like surfing the internet and sending emails.

If you’re new to technology or want to encourage a neighbor, friend or family member to enter the digital age, Kamber suggests setting priorities. “The tech universe is so vast it can be overwhelming to a newcomer,” he says. “I’m a big fan of people making decisions about what they don’t want to learn, as well as what they do want to learn. If you have no interest in starting a blog or editing photos, skip that. Focus instead on what is important to you. For the great majority of people, that’s about communication and social connection, so learning how to text and email is a great place to start.”

Ready to log on?

OATS classes are available through Senior Planet centers in New York, Maryland, Colorado andTexas. Oasis ConnectionsSenior Net and AARP all host introductory technology workshops in cities across the country.

Kamber suggests going “old school” to find other local resources: stop in or phone your local library, senior or community center or the office of your local town council or assembly person and ask what kinds of tech classes and programs are available. “Because these resources are so local, it can be difficult to find information on the internet,” he says.

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