Technology bridges the distances and generations


Do you look at today’s changing technology and feel overwhelmed? You’re not alone. No matter your age, any new technology involves a learning curve. Unfortunately, in the case of computer technology, age doesn’t always equate with wisdom. But it’s also a myth that older people can’t learn the newest technology. 

I didn’t grow up with computers and cellphones as my children did. In fact, I taught myself to type on my mother’s Underwood manual typewriter. It was old when I did that; now it would be considered a valuable antique.

Like my friends, I went off to college with a modern, portable “Selectric” typewriter, complete with correction tape and carbon paper for copies. Does anybody remember that? That technology is largely gone today, except among collectors.

By the time I graduated, newspapers had started to computerize workflows. Thank goodness. Layout and writing is so much easier in the computer age. But through the years, I’ve had to deal with dozens of different versions of word processing, layout and photo-editing software and hardware.

Now TVs, cars and home appliances are becoming more and more software-driven. And it seems the learning curve gets steeper with each new machine and every passing year. Every time I think I’m comfortable with the latest and greatest, I realize that there’s something new – and complicated – to get used to. Change is truly constant.

The design and production of The Voice is fairly state of the art. We just upgraded to a new version of our design software, Adobe InDesign. For the last issue, something went awry and all of our ads were low resolution. That meant sending the printer a new copy of the pages. I didn’t know how to do that and our layout and design expert was unavailable. Thanks to the good folks at our printer, Graphic Developments Inc., and my daughter, who knows how to use the computer program, you received your usual high-resolution copy of the paper. What exactly is low and high resolution? That’s for another column!

But there’s always something new to learn.

When I interviewed the folks at the Providence Village a few months ago, they told me that their help line gets the most calls for computer problems. That’s because cellphones, email, computers and web browsers are constantly changing, and challenging even to those of us who thought we had mastered them. The Village, a grassroots organization that helps members stay in their homes as they age, has a dedicated team of member-volunteers to help solve tech problems.

All of this certainly isn’t intuitive to the generation reared on dial telephones, carbon paper, typewriters and physical buttons to drive appliances. But adapting – and coping with – new technology also is something that can bring people and families together.

So, when my parents graduated to smartphones a couple of weeks ago, we were prepared to answer a lot of questions. The whole family had urged them to upgrade their old flip phones to make it easier to communicate with far-flung family members. One grandchild lives abroad and the rest of us are scattered across the U.S. Most of the family communicates via text, on the run: Smartphones allow for easier communication between family members.

We all came together to try to make the transition easier. So far, so good. Our computer-averse parent seems to be taking to the phone quite well. The computer-literate parent is right behind. Both overthink the process a little bit. But I think that the ability to get photos and communicate via text message – which is much more immediately rewarding than trying to reach us via voice – will push both to master their new devices.

Now, as a family, we will all have to remember to include our parents in our photo sharing and group texts.

So next time you’re faced with new technology, don’t think of the learning curve – think of the rewards to come.