We have the advantage of choosing the communication tools we want.
The digital age has caused a paradigm shift in almost every aspect of daily life—personal or work-related tasks, financial transactions, medical tests and procedures, entertainment and leisure.
But the biggest change, which poses a special challenge for seniors, is the proliferation of tools available for communicating with people.
To illustrate, here’s an anecdote I came across a while back.
A safari hunter gets separated from his companions and is lost in the jungle, when he hears drums in the distance. Following the sound, he comes upon a group of tribesmen in a clearing, some energetically pounding on their drums.
“I’m lost. Can you help me?” he asks their leader.
“I think we can, sir. We have ways of sending messages that very few know about,” answers the chief.
“You mean through those drums?”
“Of course not, sir. Nowadays, drums are just for entertainment.” With that, the chief pulls out a cell phone from his tunic and presses some buttons.
Voice call or video call?
Extending the story, we now ask: Was he making a simple voice call or a video call? Was he using the regular call function, or was he using Viber, WhatsApp, Facetime or Skype? Was he simply texting on one of these software apps, or was he using Messenger on Facebook? Was he sending an e-mail? If so, was he on Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Comcast or some other service?
While using multiple platforms comes naturally to young people, especially millennials, many seniors find it difficult to navigate the numerous processes of connectivity. While almost everyone owns a cell phone, its use is often limited to one or two functions—texting and calling—among the elderly.
Many of us grew up writing carefully crafted letters (with none of today’s weird abbreviations) to family and friends. We sent them by postal “snail mail” and waited days, weeks, or even months to receive equally well-written replies.
For more formal documents, we used a manual typewriter, and later an electric typewriter. If we made a mistake, we used a rubber eraser or typed over the error after covering it with Snopake. We used alternating sheets of carbon paper and bond paper to make copies of the original.
Today, people simply type on their PCs, laptops, tablets or cell phones, using one-click tools to select document formats, fonts and sizes. They can make instant changes, copy, paste and relocate entire sections, and instantly delete unwanted words, sentences or entire sections. Correct spellings and proper spacing automatically appear.
The seeming ease and the many choices provided by today’s digital technology have actually posed a challenge for the elderly, especially those from the typewriter era, who are now retired.
As president of an international poetry organization, I have to deal with members from many countries, most of whom are seniors. Believe it or not, some of them only use their landline phones. Imagine the long-distance charges I have to pay whenever I have to call them in the US or some other country! And some of them still insist on writing letters by hand, and sending them by postal mail. I have no choice but to reply in the same way. I have earnestly suggested the use of free apps with all their advantages, but to no avail.
But these are extreme cases, and I believe most seniors look at the new technology as a boon. True, it is a challenge to leave our comfort zone, but it is extremely satisfying to learn a new skill, specially one that saves us a lot of precious time and money.
The first thing we have to realize is that we are actually in a better position than the younger generation. Unlike them, who need to keep pace with every new technology, we have more freedom and can “pick and choose” the ones that serve us best. So, let’s take better advantage of today’s communication environment without becoming slaves to it, but also not being totally disengaged.
For example if we want constant communication with friends, let’s ask one of our children (or grandchildren) to download one of the many available apps for this purpose, such as Viber or WhatsApp. We can even join a chat group where we can share our thoughts anytime.
If we love to keep in touch through letters, we can easily get an e-mail address (again, with some help) on Gmail or Yahoo. We can also join an exclusive group (classmates, friends, etc.) on these sites.
Lastly, if we love to watch all kinds of shows (movies, concerts, plays, magic, etc.) or listen to any kind of music, we can easily learn to log on to YouTube, with its endless variety of offerings, from the simplest to the most spectacular.
There is a bright new digital world out there for us to enjoy. And we have the luxury of choosing which small or big part of it we want. —CONTRIBUTED