How can we reconcile opinions that are diametrically opposed? No, this is not another
post-election talking head show. Consider the following excerpt from a letter:
Actually, I think you are way too generous in your philosophy of older, hi-tech users. It’s
a given that older hi-tech users abound, but only in a sense of working in a hi-tech
environment, or the occasional hobbyist, which is rare when it comes to computer hi-tech. I have
only run into a couple of older hi-tech computer users since the PC has been around, and they
were in the computer business. Get away from the big cities out into the country and finding a hi-tech elder is about as easy as finding gold in the ground.
Of course there are some older computer users who consider themselves hi-tech just
because they know how to turn on the computer and send an e-mail and play their favorite card
game. But ask them technical questions and you’ll most likely pop their little fantasy bubble.
The majority don’t even know what is inside their computer. Ask what processor they are using
and the response is usually “I don’t know.”
And contrast it with this one:
Hi, I am 74 but have been using computers since the TRS80. My neighbor was 86 last
week and is nearly blind. He spends a couple of hours in the morning writing stories about his
past. He needs my help usually twice a week – sometimes more. I don’t mind giving it to him as, without the computer, he would have virtually nothing. Like me, he is deaf, but can lip read and
has hearing aids. Like me, the aids don’t help enough. He can’t read even with a magnifying glass but he
does have something to do, now. He is one up on me as his wife is 85 but mine died 5 years ago.
I live on Phillip Island, Australia with many retirees and it is surprising the number of oldies
that have or use computers.
I chose the second example because I’ve never been to Phillip Island Australia, but it just sounds
like it is not smack in the middle of a big city.
One resolution is to remember that in this series I am more interested in helping provide the
ability to function. Turning seniors into computer gurus is not the main issue. Just as a small
minority of freshman physics or chemistry students become professionals in either field, only a
small minority of computer users need to know much beyond how to do the things they want to
do. The trick is to educate them on what can be done so that they can decide what they want to
do from a rational basis.
I think the first writer overlooked that goal. He seems to expect more than necessary. Imagine
the situation if every driver was required to understand how an automatic transmission works
before they could drive. That would be silly. Yet many technically trained people expect similar
silly levels of competence from the using majority. Once we realize this unjustified expectation,
then the philosophies expressed in the two letters can be integrated.