Savvy Seniors: Keeping Up With Technology

Who says the older generation is tech-challenged?Ten years ago, when Hilary Kelley’s daughter was getting a new computer, she gave Kelley her old one. “I asked her ‘What do I do with it?’ and she said, ‘Just turn it on. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.'”To some seniors, this could have been a daunting task. But instead of being intimidated by the prospect, the 76-year-old from Gilford took it as an adventure. “There’s nothing scary about it. It’s actually fun,” says Kelley, who today uses her computer to bank online, change her resumé and update her Facebook page, among other things. A few years ago, in fact, when her computer needed more memory, she ordered a new card online from Dell and then installed it herself simply by reading the instructions. (To be fair, Kelley is always up for an adventure – she got her black belt in karate just a decade ago.)The computer is not the only piece of technology that Kelley uses on a daily basis, either. As a ballet instructor for more than 40 years, Kelley today downloads music from her iTunes account onto the iPod her son gave her as a present two years ago. In the span of her career she has seen the evolution of music technology: “When I had my own dance studio years ago, of course we started out with records. Then it went to 8-tracks. Then we went into cassettes, and they were wonderful. I would buy a cassette player that detected where a song ended so I could push a button and set it back to the beginning. Then came CDs, which were very handy.”Now, she says, her iPod makes life even better. She can download specific songs instead of buying an entire album or edit the music to her specifications.Being techno-savvy runs in her family: she and her two sisters, ages 80 and 72, keep in touch by e-mailing back and forth on a regular basis. “I even helped my sister Denise with a book she was writing,” says Kelley. “She would e-mail me a chapter, and I would send her back questions or comments.”New technology is all but unavoidable in today’s fast-paced world. And while some, like Kelley and her siblings, are quick to embrace it, others find it intimidating and are hesitant to brave these new worlds. In those cases, learning might just be more about being forced to adopt it. That’s what happened to Marie Fox, 67, of Bow.After her husband got sick and she needed to go to work, Fox took a job that required having some computer literacy – which, at the time, she did not have. “I thought, ‘I will learn it, and I just knew I had to do it and I knew I could,'” says Fox. “We did not have a home computer then and I was very nervous, but they trained me and I learned it. Then I got a home computer and I wasn’t scared anymore because I had the limited access at work and then my kids just showed me a few things.”Today, the fourth and fifth grade teacher uses her computer at school for many uses: inputting grades, sending out weekly updates and test schedules to parents or coming up with lesson plans. At home she is “obsessed” with her personal budget plan program. “I put down all of my expenditures,” says Fox. “People say no one knows where my money goes, but I do.”And with five grown kids and their families scattered throughout the country, Fox takes advantage of other aspects on her computer, such as Skype and Internet purchasing. “Just last week I purchased something for my newest grandchild [online]. I’m not a big shopper outside, so it’s convenient and I’m not afraid to use my credit card.”As for Skype, she says this software program for video calling is wonderful for grandparents who are separated from grandchildren. “It allows them to see you and keep you in mind,” says Fox. “And for the newborn, I can see how she is growing.”Fox, like many in her age demographic, has no use for what some younger generations might consider the cool bells and whistles of technology. About the closest she’ll come to a video game is playing one round of Solitaire every night on the computer. Her iPod is strictly for downloading free books or podcasts from the library and National Public Radio and copying songs over from her own CD collection; she has no interest in Facebook (“I think I’d get on it and be surfing here and there and wasting a lot of time. And what information do I want to put out there anyway about me?”) She doesn’t have a smartphone – just a basic cell phone with no camera and very limited service. And although she does get up early to read two newspapers online every day, she still also has two papers delivered to her home every morning. “[Reading online] just expands what I read,” she says.Given that she was a naysayer to begin with, she nevertheless is now looking forward to learning more, such as PowerPoint. “I was forced to, and now I see the pleasure in it,” she says.According to the PEW Research Center’s 2011 study, “Generations and their Gadgets,” the most popular technology that older Americans own are cell phones, desktop computers and laptop computers. But when it comes to gadgets, the number of Boomers and older Americans who own them is far less than younger generations. For example, while nearly two-thirds of older Boomers, aged 57-65, own a desktop computer, only about 3 percent of those same adults own either an e-book reader or a tablet computer. And not even half of those aged 66-74 own a desktop computer at all – about 48 percent.It’s simply a question of being comfortable with technology, and a lot of people are not, says Jerry Fleischman, 69, who lives in Laconia on Lake Winnesquam with his wife, Sharon, 67. As a retired Bell Systems engineer, technology is not foreign to Fleischman: “I’ve been using computers for a very long time, but I’m amazed at how quickly the technology rolls over.”The couple use their computers for most home activities, but they also find that the type of computer they choose makes life easier as well. “We’ve had Macs for a long time. To me, the Apple products are better and simpler. We don’t have to worry about viruses.”Not only does the couple have two iMacs, but also the iPad – which only about 4 percent of all adults own, according to the PEW study. Sharon finds the iPad’s tablet format easy to take along with her wherever she goes. “I love being able to use its wi-fi capabilities. I can get my e-mails while sitting at a restaurant or when I don’t have a computer available to me,” she says. “I’m the recording secretary for my temple group, and I may even start to use it for the minutes to our meetings.”The couple is waiting for Verizon to get the iPhone 5, rumored to happen sometime in the fall. “I think I’m going to get one of those,” says Jerry. “And then we’ll really be able to maximize interfaces and be fully connected.”As for Hilary Kelley, she’ll still be looking forward to the latest gadget no matter how old she gets. “I love all technology,” says Kelley. “If I had more money, I’d have more technology.” NH

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