Is the Chromebook Good for Seniors?

Is the Google Chromebook good for seniors? JM writes:

I would like to introduce my 50-year-old father to technology. How do I go about doing this? My brother, my mother, and I had a serious talk about it. My parents plan on moving to the beach in four years (something they always dreamed of) so they can get things settled in, as they are retiring soon.

Growing up, my brother and I learned technology (starting from Windows XP) and became very tech savvy. We still are today, and just recently I got my mom to become more socially interested in technology by showing her Facebook and how she could connect to relatives. She was sort of already, as she was working for a lawyer as a legal secretary, but all she used was the Microsoft Office suite.

Now, as the world is getting more into the cloud, she is doing e-filing and using Google Docs for her work (meaning she can do more at home now because she can log into her Google account). I also gave her my iPhone after I got my new Android device.

My father, on the other hand, refuses to learn about technology. Our first big step was just this year when we finally got him to accept a smartphone. Though a big step, it still wasn’t much. We got him hooked on Angry Birds, but other than that, he just uses it as a regular phone.

I thought, as a first official step, we could get him a tablet. We thought this was a great idea until my brother brought up the Chromebook. It certainly is simple, and could get him used to the laptop form factor, but really, would he need a laptop eventually? Tablets are getting more popular. His interests are reading, college/NFL football, cooking, and working with wood. What do you think would be a great idea? Should we go with a tablet? If so, what type? My brother and I are big Android fanatics, while my mom is enjoying iOS, so we all know each operating system. Should we go with the Chromebook? Is a Chromebook good for seniors?

How Do You Make Technology Appealing to a Senior?

Chromebook Good for Seniors?JM, you have bundled a lot of questions into one. Let’s start with a generality: seniors can continue to learn throughout their lives, but the motivation for continuing to learn differs from that of younger people. I know an artist who started to learn Photoshop when he was 86 years old. He had a highly successful career with airbrushes making ad copy, and he continued his career with the new technology — because he wanted to! This is extremely important to understand, since a senior who has navigated at least 50 years of life as your father seems to have done is not preparing for a first career or becoming acculturated to the environment. He supported a family and raised at least two children. He has seen a lot and done a lot. He put bread on your table. If you want to facilitate his continuing to learn, particularly about technology and the Internet, that learning must have an immediate, pleasurable hook. His desire to play Angry Birds is an example of a pleasure hook. Working for delayed goals is fine, and that will come later, but to get started, immediate positive results are necessary, followed by an obvious path to more pleasurable things.

Entice — Don’t Preach

In presenting reasons why your father should invest the time to learn new skills, be aware that he already has all the tools he needs to lead a fulfilling life. If you try to entice him by emphasizing what he is missing, you will miss that boat, not him. Entice him by showing immediate benefits with the veiled promise of much more to come. “Everyone else is doing it” might work on a teenager, but could have the opposite result on a senior who is much more independent.

Try sitting in the same room with him while you scan football sites. When you find an interesting factoid he might not know, maybe laugh and tell him about it. Get him engaged in looking at the site. Tell him you have a new favorite meal and show him where you found the recipe online.

Your hope is to entice him into experimenting. This is complicated because many seniors have a fear that, by pressing the wrong keys, they will break the computer. They also tend to have an inflated sense of the danger of hacking and identity theft. These are reasonable concerns, but you need to find a way around them. Some seniors take to having their children or grandchildren teach them new things, but beware that other seniors seem to think that learning from your offspring is improper. They would rather remain ignorant. You have to judge where your father is on that scale. You might try to interest him in a free tutorial such as this one:

Is the Chromebook Good for Seniors?

Then you ask the question of what specific devices to provide for him. Since you did not mention budget, I will assume that a $1,200 Ultrabook is not out of the question if you decide to go that way. However, a simple tablet might be better as a starter. Is a Chromebook good for seniors? A Chromebook is not my favorite, but it would work just fine if he is enticed to use it.

One issue is the obvious fact that the field is still changing rapidly, and seniors respond to changes differently than younger folk. Smartphones of today bear little resemblance to those that are five years old. Since you started with XP and worked your way through several types of devices and operating systems, you have a different view of the reality behind such simple tasks as sharing photos. This is a mysterious process to your father. Respect that. Try not to talk down to him, but remember what I said above: he has successfully navigated a life. Learning to navigate the Internet should be less trouble, but until you develop an innate feeling for clicking, swiping, or whatever else you need, technology is a locked door. Your desire to help your father is admirable. Stick with it.

Image: #gafesummit shared by PegBecks via Flickr

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.