How In Heck Does This Ding-Dang Thing-A-Ma-Jig Work? (A view of the techy world from older eyes.)

Recently, I saw the You Tube video of the grandparents trying to figure out how to use Skype, and it made me realize how much you “young ‘uns” out there (35 and younger) take all such things for granted. Yes, the video was funny, but I don’t think younger people realize how incredibly confusing the internet world can be for older people. In many ways, it’s not a laughing matter. Older people are truly and innocently being forced into a techy world that was unheard of only a few years ago. It’s kind of like speaking two languages. If you are born into a family that speaks two languages, it’s a snap. But when you’re an older person trying to learn a completely new language, it’s intimidating and often very difficult.

Our younger generation was born into the world of the internet. Now there are even computer-like toys that teach infants some of the basics. When older people like myself need to have something “fixed” on our computer or are confused about a certain program we have downloaded (or trying to download) we turn to our kids and even our grandkids to help us out. That can be embarrassing and even a bit humiliating to a perfectly smart, independent, and active older person who hates having to ask for help.

In this particular situation, it’s not like going from horse and buggy to the automobile. The change has taken place much faster than that, and the internet world of Facebook and Twitter and e-mail and texting and web sites and blogs and droids and i-phones that do absolutely everything keeps changing every day! I recently griped on Facebook about that very thing. I am tired of opening Facebook to find out it has changed yet again and now is intruding into my personal “space” to tell me what I should be looking at. Leave me alone, Facebook!! If there is something I want to find, I’ll go find it! Quit trying to get into my head!

Is that next? An apparatus that reads our thoughts? It wouldn’t surprise me. My point here is that younger people have to understand how confusing the “techy” world is to people my age. I am 66 and I’m not stupid. I worked as an executive secretary for years. I do the books for 2 corporations and have my own writing business. I am treasurer for two service organizations. I have had 57 novels published and have won writing awards. I give public speeches and conduct workshops. I feel a good 25 years younger than my age and like to think I look quite a bit younger, too. I have no physical or mental ailments. I’m not some doddering old gray-headed lady who can’t figure out how to open her computer. I’ve been using one for years. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and have a Blog and a Web site and use my e-mail and I have an i-4 Apple cell phone...yadda - yadda - yadda. But I am still a bit daunted by all that is happening with the internet world. I have often thought about how much more daunting it is for older people who are retired and still trying to learn all this stuff. I’ve been pretty much forced into it because of my many different jobs. For the bookkeeping I had to learn how to use Quick Books, and for my writing I have to stay up on all the avenues the internet presents for advertising myself.

I do remember my first computer. I cried and wanted to take it back because I thought I would never figure it out. That was probably 25 years ago! I wanted to go back to my trusty typewriter. It didn’t ask me questions like, “Are you sure you want to delete this?” Gosh, no! Will the computer explode if I do? That thing really intimidated me, and I wasn’t an old lady then! I also remember when my parents bought their first TV – with a screen about one square foot in size and with knobs you fiddled with when the picture kept flipping or the horizontal would get all screwy. You could adjust brightness and of course every time you wanted to change the channel you had to get up and go do it manually. No wonder we didn’t have as much of a weight problem back then. I remember our phone was on a party line – had to wait for a neighbor to get off the phone before we could use it. All phones had cords and manual dials and there was only one phone per household. There was no such thing as 911, and when my mom got sick the doctor came to the house. We didn’t have to take her out. I remember learning to drive on a stick shift. I remember that when we printed something it was on a big drum-like machine with purple ink that you cranked with your hand. I remember the first memory machine at the lawyer’s offices where I worked back in the 70’s – a HUGE contraption that took up half the office! Only one girl knew how to use it and we were in awe of her. That would automatically print out certain legal documents and all she had to do was fill in the blanks, but there were codes to learn and all kinds of hoops to jump through to do it right. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was some early form of a computer and it was big and noisy.

When I watch old black and white movies it really hits me how far we’ve come with telephones and television and airplanes and vehicles. I’m not so sure all of it is good, but in most ways it is. I will always remember my mother (now 90) saying that when they came out with bar codes for scanning prices it was the “work of the devil.” To me the scariest thing about the internet is that, unlike something in print, once you put your words and/or pictures “out there,” it’s there forever. You can never take it back. Anyone can go back and find it at any time. So I try to be careful with my comments on the internet. There is no eraser for texts or e-mails or any of the other forms of internet communication. Some people have learned that the hard way!!

This movement into a new century of communication has come fast and furious and changes every day. That’s not easy for people my age and older. I am still trying to figure out how it all works. How on earth can my text message that I send out amid millions and millions of other text messages get to the recipient, who might be 5000 miles away, in just a couple of seconds? How does that one little message travel through space and land on someone else’s phone that fast? In fact, how can ANYTHING just go into the air and land somewhere? And how did all that information, millions and millions of pages of info. on absolutely anything you want to know about, get into the sites where they are? Who did that, and when? You just go on the internet and type in anything – ANYTHING – and it will bring you zillions of answers. How can all the pages of practically every book ever printed now be found on the internet? Who scanned all that – and when?

I just want younger people to realize how astounding all of this is to older people and not laugh at them. They are NOT STUPID! They are proud and curious and want to enjoy this wonderful new way to communicate; but some of them are still remembering hand-dialed telephones and black and white TV’s and stick shifts. They come from an age when you could explain everything in black and white – an age when men fixed their own engines and women wrote letters by hand. They are accustomed to being able to understand how things work. Texting a message 3000 miles away in two seconds flat just doesn’t make sense to them. I guess you could compare it to teaching young people how to churn butter and milk a cow and make all their own clothes and make all their own meals and baked goods from scratch. It would be hard to learn those things when you’ve never done them before.

I don’t think of myself as old at all. I keep forgetting my age. I was reminded the other day when I was watching TV with my 10-year-old grandson. Someone mentioned a “Hi-fi.” He turned to me and asked “Grandma, what’s a hi-fi?” Boy, did I feel old! And no, I still haven’t learned how to use Skype on my new Dell laptop!


  1. I saw that video—very funny! Reminded me of myself when I'm trying to figure out new technology and I'm still way behind! Great post.

  2. Hi Rosanne,

    Great blog. BTW, you DO look younger--and behave younger.

    I so-o-o understand your culture shock. But you showed those doubters and your stories can now be read and loved by new generations.

    All the best, Annette

  3. Rosanne, you have a wealth of knowledge from all your past experiences that this generation can only read about. Yes, they know all about the latest technological toys, but can they operate a typewriter or a manual ten-key adding machine? What about a hand-cranked telephone or phone numbers with letter prefixes? Can they even write an actual thank-you letter and use proper spelling? They can't imagine a world without fast food and Google and Facebook. I'm not saying technology is bad. Not at all, but as someone who has seven-plus decades of life experiences behind her, I still say, "You and I have come a long way, baby. This generation has a long way to go to catch up with us."
    That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Cheers!

  4. All so very true, Rosanne,

    Nice to know I'm not the only one who worries about something exploding when I answer a message that appears on screen.

    Like you said, we have the kids and grandkids to help us figure it all out!