Growing up, my sister and I struggled with various math “problems” for which we needed our parents’ help. Jen couldn’t tell time, and I couldn’t add two plus two. Dad, towering at 6’3 and a successful businessman, was the Superhero in our eyes. He, we thought, was the man to go to for homework help. I mean, why wouldn’t you ask a superhero for help? Superheroes know everything, right?
Dad, to our surprise, was useless. Instead of “helping,” he’d either solve the problems for us or he’d bark commands and throw his hands up in frustration when he couldn’t fathom that I couldn’t understand that two plus two does not equal five.
Mom would quickly intercept his boom and quietly took my math workbook and led me to the kitchen table where she patiently explained the concepts of math. Her approach worked: “Two plus two is FOUR,” I’d gleefully announce, and Mom quickly became the Superhero.
Now that I’m an adult and my parents are seniors, it is I who apparently hold superpowers, and we are experiencing a “changing of the guard.”
My 75-year old father, fighting ever retiring, teaches at the same university as I. Recently, our university adopted a new digital technology that has my father enraged. All coursework at the university is paired with a course management system, or a CMS. Most basically, a CMS houses all the “stuff” we supply for our students. So, for example, instead of handing out paper copies of an assignment, we can upload an electronic copy onto the CMS.
My father, once a Superhero and now a self-proclaimed Digital Dinosaur, cannot figure out how to navigate the CMS.
Daily, he asks, “Liz, I can’t figure out how to work this damn thing. Will you come show me how?”
I chuckle to myself, reveling in the opportunity to show him that I’m a much more patient teacher than he ever was.
And then there’s my mom…the “patient” one…
At my encouragement, Mom recently donated her Samsung flip phone to the Smithsonian and decided to boldly go where she’d never gone before: she bought the new iPhone 8.
Rarely have I ever heard a cuss word come out of the mouth of my 74-year old, church-going, God-fearing mom. As kids, my sister and I knew when Mom was really angry or frustrated about something—she’d let a cuss word slip. When she slipped, we knew to give her a wide berth and, ideally, stay away at all costs.
Even rarer is it for her to drop the most egregious of cuss words—the ones nobody dare mention in public.
A helpful daughter, I offered to help Mom get her new phone up and running…
After our tutoring session, I now need two hands and a foot to calculate the new compound words she has created, one of which starts with “f.”
Like most kids, growing up, I put my parents on a pedestal, thinking they knew everything about everything and thought they would always know everything about everything.
And now, my parents put me on the pedestal, thinking I know everything about everything technology.
Sadly, I do not. I am no Superhero.
Even though I, too, own and operate an iPhone, I can’t answer all Mom’s questions about the iPhone: “I don’t know, Mom. We’re either going to have to go to the Verizon store to ask or find someone under fifteen years old to help us.”
Digital technology can improve older adults’ quality of life, but most seniors, including my mom and dad, are reluctant learners, lacking confidence in using technology even after they acquired it. My mom is hell-bent on downloading the instruction manual from Apple. “If I have the manual in front of me,” she asserts, “I can understand what it is that I’m supposed to do and then I can do it.”
Except she can’t figure out how to download the manual. She needs “Tech Support” with that, too.
All learning is a social process. Acquiring new digital literacy skills would likely happen best, then, when we are supported by family, peers, and mentors.
Specifically, seniors can benefit from the support of “digital natives,” a term coined by Marc Prensky, founder and executive director of The Global Future Education Foundation and Institute. Digital natives are your kids and grandkids: the ones who have used technology all of their lives.
Digital Immigrants, Prensky declares, are people like you and my mom and dad: people who have had to adapt to technology later in life and require support so they may lead more empowered, digitally-literate lives.
Research from the University of Western Ontario demonstrates, “A good support system is an important aspect for overcoming barriers to digital literacy. With the help of support systems, including people older adults are comfortable with, such as family and friends, older adults can gain the experience necessary to become digitally literate. Obtaining know-how knowledge, such as troubleshooting through watching and learning, from family members and peers can help foster confidence…and aid in overall digital literacy.”
Do you consider yourself a “Digital Dinosaur?” Are you currently struggling with some aspect of digital technology? Let us help! Post your question on @Ask a Pup and one of our TWE Pups– all digital natives– will provide you with the support you need!
Are you, too, a self-proclaimed Digital Dinosaur or a Superhero? Share with us your story of how you have struggled and hopefully conquered some aspect of learning new digital technologies. We’d love to hear your story! Post it HERE and maybe your story will be published on the Through Wolf’s Eyes website.
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