Sunday, July 14, 2013

Technology And The Elderly: Being Left Out And Left Behind


Fr. Dale Matson

About 20 years ago I was introduced to “email” by our Information Technology (IT) folks at the University. During my tenure, there was an ongoing struggle to communicate with the technology types who walked us through every new computer software and hardware upgrade. Keeping pace with the changes was a professional requirement and responsibility.

I am retired but my professional requirements as a publisher and priest help keep me apace of changes. My latest challenge was installing a new wireless printer for our home computers. The trick was getting the machines through a process called ‘discovery mode’ (a small and uncertain window of opportunity) to recognize and communicate with each other.

I have older siblings and friends who have not been as fortunate, who lack the initiative, curiosity or ability to keep pace with the technology. Computer literacy is no longer optional. It is a necessary requirement for citizenship. To some extent, computer software and hardware have become more ‘user friendly’. Those who could not reprogram the clock on their VCR ten years ago after a time change or power outage can deal with the DVR that has replaced it.

While computer technology is more user friendly, computer technology is also more pervasive. It is common now to ‘talk’ with a computer when making a reservation. Those who are frustrated by internet organization websites can’t really bypass the technology by talking to a person on the phone any more.

Navigating the menus and sub-menus requires careful listening and patience. What about my question which is not one of the menu options? What about my question which is not one of the ‘Frequently asked questions’ (FAQ’s)? How many people are there like me who hear the dreadful comment on the phone, “For more information please go to our website www. [fill in the blank] com? I was on the phone because I couldn't navigate the website in the first place. If only more government websites were designed like Amazon.com?

I recently made a reservation for a wilderness permit online. It was not easy and I only have the receipt to pick up the trail permit, not the actual permit. Reservations can no longer be obtained by phone. Increasingly there is no person out there who can answer your question or direct you to a person who can answer your question. Google has become the ‘go to’ option of choice. Reference librarians are becoming extinct. It has become high tech-low touch.

The reason I brought this up is how difficult things have become for those who have not kept up with the technology. Those folks have no choice but to live in a world that is shrinking as they age. They are becoming isolated and alienated.  It is because they lack the life skills to interface with the modern world. An octogenarian triathlete friend has to have another friend enter him in the local events because he cannot go beyond receiving email on his computer. This is a person who otherwise is very engaged in life and remains a social person.


I believe the church has a missionary opportunity and responsibility to help the elderly access their world. Those of us who can use the technology can come alongside those who cannot. Those who cannot are being left behind and left out. It is a modern version of caring for the widows and orphans. We provide help and hope to the homeless yet we ignore the isolation of those in our congregations who lack the necessary computer skills. These skills are a means to help keep these folks connected and self-sufficient. Even after losing a driver’s license, they can still ‘get around’ on the internet. The internet is also a way to remain connected to the church family and activities.

Thirty years ago my father-in-law took tape recordings of the church service to the home-bound. We can do much better than this today. An obstacle for others is an opportunity for us and an opportunity to serve Christ in others.   

6 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

Computing as a second language classes sound like a good idea if you could also consider it a way to connect with your extended church family who can't get to church or to Bible study.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to say that I hope to die soon ( i'm 51 ) due to the fact I CANNOT comprehend much about technology nor do I wish to by any measure..........it is not something I can understand ,I cannot be useful in my now "old fashioned" ways that was once just fine 20 years ago. A nice quick heart attack will be just fine by tommorrow. This world is no longer for me to be in.....I am full of hate for the technology that now tries to rule my life no matter where I go. C'mon death.......

Dale Matson said...

Dear Anonymous,
My brother feels the same way you do. Fortunately, his wife does use the computer. The fact that you can comment on this blog suggests to me that you have the necessary basic computer skills. Is it possible that you are also depressed?

Dale Matson said...

Here is a current example of the desperation of the elderly.
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/teacher-committed-suicide-dignitas-after-3382668

Anonymous said...

Keeping up with all these changes is damned near impossible.

Dale Matson said...

Pewster,
Our services are now videostreamed live. The problem once again is that most of the shut ins don't have the computer skills to access them.