Digital Conversations

Keeping up with the youngsters

11th July 2011


Women, computer class, happy, learning, Banking, booking tickets, claiming benefits, reading the news, getting directions  -  so much of our lives can be done online to make things “easier” and to “save time”.

But what happens when you can’t use a computer? How do you function in a world that has moved so quickly to an overwhelming technology overload?

For the last month and a bit I have been teaching computer classes at the local seniors centre. Very brave people over 60 years old come along to the class expecting to be thrown into a big black hole of confusion. I admire their strength and determination as they hesitantly ask questions that start with “I know this is probably really easy but….”.

21% of Australians over the age of 65 have access to the internet¹ but I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend time with people that have conquered their careers, family life and are incredibly wise, intelligent and outgoing…. But they find computers scary.

I even have some 90 year olds in the class that are inspired to learn more new things. We tend to go over the same thing each week but I let them get away with it….. The ones in their 80s, however have to be on their game.

Old person glossary:

Senior, Glossary, Interpretation, Computer class

As someone that dabbles in useability of websites daily, I have found the classes fascinating, seeing how non-experienced website users see our digital world.

The one thing that surprised me is how confusing website pages are. New users that aren’t familiar with looking at a page can’t tell the difference without close inspection as to what important content is and what an advertisement is. Taking a newbie through the steps of filling in a form online, they are confused and distracted by flashing banners, Facebook “Like” buttons and all other call to actions that I would tend to ignore. On each page I would have to describe to the user what they need to focus on to get their task done.  They are also so scared of doing something wrong, each pop up “allow/don’t allow” is the end of the world and frightening enough to turn the computer off until their grandchildren come over to help.

The PC mouse is an interesting tool for new computers users to get used to also. Knowing when to use the right or the left mouse button is incredibly confusing and tiny call to actions (like the pins on a Google map) are almost impossible to click on when your hand has a slight shake. The coolest lesson we have gone through so far is how to “drag and drop”. Using this surprise functionality saved them so much time when saving and moving documents, they were thrilled.

My favourite students*

Elsa – a sweet and huggable 82 year old who wants to share her card making stills online in a craft forum and to chat with people about paper craft from all over the world

Al – a handsome 78 year old who has hours of music on cassette tape. He wants to put this music on his computer to file and burn to a CD – but he can’t work a mouse yet

Gail – an outgoing 75 year old who is travelling overseas to play 10 pin bowling competitively, plays tennis every day and wants to learn about how to set up and run an Excel spreadsheet to become the clubs treasurer

Brian – who wants to email family and friends overseas but hasn’t figured out the difference between the brand of computer, the brand of browser, the brand of internet provider to get connected and the brand of the email provider to start an account with

I am learning a ridiculous amount of things about life experience, family, loss, friendship, patience, humour and how to make a good cup of tea.

Stay tuned for more glossary updates by following me on Twitter @khylandmcgovern OR #digitaloldies

¹ Participation in Society, Population Ageing in New South Wales 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics, p.80
* not their real names

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