Me: Why did you click that?
Older Relative: It said I owed money for an order from (name major retailer).
Second Older Relative: My Facebook is in German.
Me: Click the button that reads English to get it back to English.
Second Older Relative: I can’t read any of it. It’s in German.
Third Older Relative: Can I use your printer to print my ticket?
Me: It’s on your phone.
Third Older Relative: I want a paper ticket.
Me: But you don’t need one. It’s on your phone, on the app we downloaded.
Fourth Older Relative: I can’t remember my password. I wrote it down but lost the paper. But I just have to find that one note because my passwords for everything are all the same.
Me: (hits head on desk)
I’m blessed to have a big family and doubly blessed that many of my relatives are thriving as they enter their eighties. They’re enjoying travel, church, holiday get-togethers, and much more.
I’m grateful for this situation. But this means I’m not so much a beloved family member anymore, but rather, tech support. I like technology. At different points in my life, I sold computers, taught software classes, reported on tech innovations and trends, and even authored a book about Twitter. So, if any of the older generation in my family accidentally clicks on a link, can’t turn off the flashlight on their phone, or needs something printed, I’m the gal they call.
Which would still be fine, except it’s not limited to the phone. Smart refrigerators, smart cars, smart doorbells, and smartwatches are ubiquitous in our lives. This means I’m now running a tech support hotline of sorts.
Several of my family members have been hacked, been the victims of fraud, and struggled with wireless printers. Despite my warnings about never opening email attachments, I understand that when you get a message saying that you owe [major retailer] tens of thousands of dollars, it’s hard not to click the link, just to make sure. I’ve repeatedly assured them that everyone has trouble with wireless printers, but it does little to calm their tech anxiety.
If I’m experiencing this, surely others are in this same boat. After a little online exploration, I discovered resources for supporting older tech users that don’t involve calling me. The resources are more patient and go beyond my standard prescription of turn it off, and then on, and then unplug it, and if that doesn’t work, buy another one.
AARP has a website called Senior Planet. It’s devoted to patient, knowledgeable tech support. You can call the Senior Planet Tech Hotline and talk to tech trainers or take classes.
Or check out Cyber-Seniors, founded in 2015. This non-profit organization provides tech training by matching young volunteers with older students. It’s like having a grandson who is really good at this stuff at your beck and call. During the height of the pandemic, the site trained tens of thousands of older adults.
Finally, teaching my older relatives that Google and YouTube are often my go-to resources when I’m stumped by technology has been invaluable. Almost any issue under the sun—from setting the clock on your microwave to unsticking the lock screen on your phone—can be found via Google and YouTube. And seeing a demonstration versus just reading it can help untangle the most daunting tech challenges.
But of course, this takes a bit of deconditioning, since my older family members are now terrified of clicking links to anything, thanks to my oft-repeated, exasperated question, “Why did you click that link?”
Technology, done well, can enhance safety for older adults, promote more active lifestyles, and even enrich social connections. But it isn’t set it and forget it. Hacking, scams, and frustration can go along with the latest gadget.
Letting your older relatives know that even the techies in the family struggle with how to make the stupid wireless printer work, and assuring them that they likely won’t break the Internet with one click, can go a long way.
Sidenote: If anyone in my family sends you a friend request, it’s probably a dummy account. They’ve been hacked. Again. I’m on it.
Me: WHY did you click that link?!