Computer PJs: The Pitfalls and Joys of Computing
An address marking the launch of the West Tamar Council supported Windsor Computer Hub by June Hazzlewood, who has lived long enough to remember the crystal set and to experience both the pitfalls and the joys of the silicon chip era.
PLATINUM NOMADS ON THE SUPER HIGHWAY
There are many stories about the various dangers and pitfalls that confront the unwary or ill-equipped senior cyber explorer. However perhaps more importantly, is the news that aid or assistance is available to help them to navigate the challenges and to experience the joys of discovery-based learning via LMNOP, learning matching needs of older persons. The Broad Band for Seniors Windsor Computer Hub we are launching today is one such. Acknowledgement is given to the Mayor and the West Tamar Council for its support in providing this excellent space for the Computer Hub. Special thanks and congratulations on behalf of the West Tamar PAS, Positive Ageing Strategy, a sub group of SAG, the West Tamar Seniors Advisory Group are due to Community Development Officer Ixa de Haan, for her enthusiasm during the grant process and the innovative and meticulous preparation of the wide range of multi-level instruction manuals. Thanks also to UTAS Department of Rural Health researcher Dr. Jess Woodroffe.
AGEISM MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES
Negative and unfounded concepts become self-fulfilling prophecies as the time-worn jokes about old dogs and new tricks drain confidence in managing the constant changes and meeting the new challenges of new technologies. These ageism stereotypes are just that. A colleague Helen Scott prefers to credit older dogs with new ‘clicks’, as she observes that older adults are neither technophobes nor passive dependents but are rather consumers needing to be informed. She also coined the phrase hand-me-up as children and grandchildren upgrade their computers and pass them up. Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer of adult learning, maintains old dogs can very often learn new tricks better than young dogs due to the experience they bring to the task at hand.
In some cases stereotypes are reinforced as over-technical training, too much information too soon, which is as bad as too little too late, inadequate hardware and unfriendly software turn anxiety to technophobia in some, to indifference in others. Potential new technology users slip through the electronic net or between the cracks in the structures put in place to bridge perceived gaps between the information rich and poor, the so-called digital divide.
An indication of the self-fulfilling prophecy emphasis placed on the technophobic by training providers, albeit light heartedly, is evidenced in the titles of courses we found while at a volunteer conference in Western Australia, reflecting progression from pitfalls to joy, such as ‘Computing for the Nervous, Panicky Beginner’and ’ Computing for the Mortally Terrified’, followed by ‘Computing for the Mildly Apprehensive’ and finally triumphantly, ‘Computing for the Creative Adult’.
YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO BE A CYBER OPSIMATH.
Opsimath, a word that means ‘one who begins to learn late’, derives from the Greek opsimatein. Historically, this word was most often used in a derogatory sense – a sort of snooty put down suggesting that the opsimath had been lazy or uninterested in learning until only recently. It is perhaps time to reclaim this word and instead use it to celebrate any older adult who is determined to continue to acquire new information and to learn new skills in the third age of active retirement. I have added the word cyber to describe all those who have acquired or are acquiring computer literacy in later life.
THIRD AGE LEARNERS AND ICT, INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY
The third age of active retirement is fast becoming the largest of four ages named by Laslett in 1989 – the first being dependence and education, the second, employment and/or parenting, the third, active retirement and the fourth, decline and once more, dependence. Barry Jones (2001) deplores the way ‘age’ is invariably linked with ‘disability’ in government publications and policy. He suggests that “Government attention and spending has been skewed disproportionately toward the minority fourth age of decline – smoothing the pillow and easing the passing of the poor old dears – rather than funding the revving up and plugging in of the increasing numbers in the majority third age sector”.
DIGITAL NATIVES AND DIGITAL MIGRANTS
Neurologists differentiate between the way children and adults learn a language other than their mother tongue, which includes technology. He describes young learners as digital natives and older learners as digital migrants. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), used to identify which parts of the brain are involved in learning, has shown that any additional languages learned in adulthood go into a different place in the brain than the language or languages learned as children. . She likens this older adult cyber learning experience to finding oneself in a radically different country, as in the case of immigrants.
EARLY, LATE AND NON-ADOPTERS OF TECHNOLOGY
Everett Rogers (1931to 2004), is best known for his ‘diffusion of innovations’ theory and introducing the term ‘Early Adopter’. Seniors are not generally ‘early adopters’ of new technology, but once a technology becomes more mature and less expensive, more reliable and easier to use and its benefits become more apparent and more compelling, seniors are as likely to use it as young people
The late adopters of technology who don’t want to know about the underpinnings but just want to click and go, are able to take advantage of the greater numbers online, the lower cost of equipment and the variety of training and support available. These technology end-users may be compared with motoring end-users – drivers who do not need or wish to know what is under the bonnet.
The 25% of older adults who are ‘non-adopters’, sometimes unkindly called luddites, are actually quite content to watch the super highway traffic from the byroads and unless there is a need for them to set foot on the super highway, there should be choice without penalty. A parallel transition zone between yesterday and tomorrow would not be too hard for banks to organise, where snail mail and email have equal status and bills can be paid in person, by cheque, or by credit card over the phone without incurring charges not applied to online transactions.
A picture of family communication, personal enrichment, extension and exploration, volunteer community service and a general raising of self-esteem emerged from an analysis of a recent survey and is evidence of some of the joys of computing in the 21st technological century. The lurking pitfalls include planned obsolescence with its costly unnecessary computer hardware and software upgrades out-pacing both the learning-span of many older adults and their financial resources. Training places such as the Windsor Computer Hub help decrease the risk of damaging scams by hackers complicating ICT literacy acquisition for later adopters who have basic or specialised needs, wants, interests and aspirations.
On a more positive note, the cost of technology is becoming progressively more affordable and therefore more accessible to all potential ICT adopters. Awareness of the advantages of becoming ICT literate is increasing. Many third age men and women who are living longer healthier lives between yesterday and tomorrow and who are participating in ICT training and support programs by choice, chance or persuasion, are found, after placing a tentative toe on the tarmac, to be moving purposefully or randomly, alone or in groups along the Super Highway.
There is a danger of cultural elitism in narrowly defining ’learning’ from the Internet or from anywhere else. It is surely just as significant for a novice older ICT learner to find a new recipe, a lost ancestor or an embroidery website, as it is for a third age learner commencing or returning to formal study to use the Internet for research. To call up Google Earth to zoom in to a place of origin or a projected visit, to watch world events as they happen via webcams or to relax with a game of Solitaire while gaining mouse-skills via Haddad’s (2000) touch of a button and glare of a screen, are some of the magic moments reported by third age digital migrant cyber optomists, who are travelling with L or P Plates proudly displayed, entering the Super Highway each from a different place and at a different pace towards different destinations.
OPTIONS TO COMPLEMENT THE WINDSOR COMPUTER HUB HELPING SENIORS TO EMBRACE THE JOYS AND AVOID COMPUTING PITFALLS:
- West Tamar Online Access Centres;
- Launceston School for Seniors, High Street;
- Launceston Centreway Arcade NBN information;
- OPEN, Older Persons Electronic Network Seniors Computer Club;
- VICTOR, the OPEN Seniors Computer Club home visit program; and
- LTS, Linking Tasmanian Seniors Online Seniors Computer Club.