By Dolores Sauca Lorusso
Technophobia (an extreme fear of new technology) is afflicting a good number of seniors in today’s increasingly high-tech society. While many baby boomers have entered the cyber world with glee, others continue to feel intimidated by the digital tools that demand adjustments to their previous lifestyles. Brought up on rotary phones and typewriters, seniors may not be as comfortable with mobile devices as their grandchildren are, but they’re willing to learn.
“Technology is here and growing, so we better accept it,” said Roy Dooley, retired Navy Captain and Vietnam Veteran from Fairfax, Virginia. “But older people, especially me, have trouble figuring it all out.”
This is particularly true for seniors who have limited to no prior experience using a computer or smart phone. Many elders are overwhelmed by technical terminology and platforms like Zoom, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, which are totally unfamiliar territory.
In a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, participants emphasized their concern and fear of using tablets and technology due to “lack of knowledge or low confidence, as well as the perceived dangers of technological equipment.”
According to the National Council on Aging, older adults are especially prone to technophobia, since they grew up without 21st century innovations like computers, email, and the internet. Some seniors even balk at using their smart phone because it seems to complicate what was once a simple mode of communication.
Dooley’s wife Nancy, who is legally blind, says “I do not use my cell phone for calls; I prefer the land line because I am used to it, but I do use it for audio books. Never thought that could happen.”
Studies have found that seniors, who fear the new technologies, could benefit from digital skills training to assist them in getting connected because not all devices are tailored for their different needs. Touch screens can be hard to use; passwords and usernames can be confusing and difficult to remember, and technology user interfaces can be daunting.
Larry Kudlow of the Kudlow show on FOX Business Network recently gave this advice to his senior audience, “Go ask your five-year-old grandchild if you are having trouble with technology because the kid will be able to help you.”
The Dooleys said their grandchildren have always been “tech savvy” and have been a great resource to them in the cyber universe.
According to Digital Trends research, with the average DQ score set at 100, tech-savviness peaks at 113 for ages 14 to 15 and drops to 80 for those over the age of 75. On average, kids aged 6 to 7 achieve a DQ score of 96, and the average score stays above 100 until the age of 35 when it begins to drop off, with the steepest fall occurring after 60.
The research also found that communication habits are constantly shifting because of changes in technology—94% of communication for 12-to 17-year-olds is texting, proving to be more popular than face-to-face interactions, yet social interaction is vital to our well-being.
The benefits of social connections and good mental health are numerous. Proven links include lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships.
This raises red flags, particularly for those born before the founding of the internet. Nancy Dooley said, “I hate when people are constantly on their smart phones; I prefer one on one…the downfall caused by cell phones is people no longer know how to communicate face to face; it takes away direct meaningful conversation.”
A report by Common Sense, a company that conducts independent research about children’s use of media and technology, indicates young people struggle to tear themselves away from their devices, even if they’re aware that “phubbing” can be bad for relationships. Phubbing is a slang term for “phone snubbing,” which is the practice of ignoring one’s companions to pay attention to one’s phone or mobile device. Though most seniors are not familiar with the term, they agree phubbing is a symptom of our society’s increasing dependence on electronic interaction. Fifty-five percent of young people said their phones are almost always out when they are spending time with friends and family.
Steve Tuomolo, trainer, and president of Heart to Heart, a program that teaches skills in peacemaking, uses technology, such as artificial intelligence, to help him solve business problems; however, he also believes “technology growth has outstripped spiritual and moral growth, and this is very dangerous.”
He went on to mention Pope Francis’s Technocrats Paradigm stating, “It takes more than technology to solve problems; human choices are essential.”
Even in their willingness to learn about the electronic tools that have become a part of their world, seniors are still concerned that some technological advancements may do more harm than good.
“It is very concerning when you see a mother pushing her toddler with a binky in his mouth in the stroller, and his eyes are glued to an iPad screen,” said Nancy Dooley. “The future will tell us what effect these behaviors will have on personal interaction in our society.”
If you are struggling with understanding your laptops or smart phones, contact the senior center in your town for upcoming digital skills classes or training. Courses, online tutorials, and people you know can be helpful resources for mastering the basics, building your technical confidence, and saying goodbye to technophobia.