Questions Teens and Seniors Ask

Many boomers are technophobic. They can barely keep up with technological advances like smart phones, computers, online banking or more routine but increasingly common options like self-checkouts and self-ticketing kiosks. I fully embrace the first three examples but I am less excited about the last two.

Self-check at grocery and big box home improvement stores still has too many glitches for my taste. I don’t use them much, so I have to slowly think through the instructions each time. And then something goes wrong nearly every time and a human has to come fix it. I’d prefer to just go to the human in the first place.

Ticket kiosks seem to be a great idea but they are still at the edge of my comfort level. Why do I have to use my credit card to print out an airline ticket when my company’s travel agency bought the ticket? Is my credit card my ID? I travelled by Amtrak last weekend and it almost seemed odd to walk up to a human ticket agent, show my driver’s license ID and have her give me a printed ticket. How old school is that? I’m taking Amtrak again next week but that time I’ll be scanning a bar code at a kiosk. The bar code will be on the screen of my smart phone. I’ve never done that and like the mildly skeptical guy that I am, I’ll also have a printout of that bar code, just in case.

I realize people use smart phone bar codes all the time. How do I know this? Starbucks. I use cash or a Starbucks gift card. Some customers just scan the virtual Starbucks gift card bar code. Hmm, is ‘bar code’ even the correct name for what I’m talking about?

For me, self-image trumps looking stupid, so I eventually learn this stuff and make a big deal about looking like I know what I’m doing. But then I sometimes end up with semi-dumb questions like … it says ‘scan this image into your smart phone’, you know, that square, squiggly thing that looks like a cross between Warhol art and bar code? OK, so how exactly do I scan that thing with my smart phone? And c’mon, what is that thing called?

My job depends heavily on digital technology and I work around tech-savvy 20-somethings, yet with all that exposure and support there are times it seems I can barely keep up. So how do 65- to 70-year old retirees keep up? They might think they don’t have to bother … until they go to an airport or a Home Depot. And on the other end, how do college-age or high school-age people handle breakdowns in technology?

Revealing random questions that might be asked, at both ends of the age spectrum …

My iPad locked up. How am I supposed to take notes during class?

Grandma’s phone had a wheel with holes in it. What was that for?

You mean you had to get up and walk over to the TV to change channels?


You mean tweet like a bird tweets? How do you do that on a computer?

You have two thousand songs on your phone?

So don’t you have to sign up for some kind of club to use the internet? (my Mother actually asked me that question when I was trying to explain what an internet service provider was).

The connection between age and technological comfort can sometimes surprise you. I know an 89-year-old who does research on the internet and emails her daughter frequently, yet I also know a 68-year-old who is online for his job but has no home internet and no cell phone and the first time he saw Facebook was at my desk at work last week. I work with two 42-year-olds who regularly ask me for tech advice on audio editing software yet they’ve had smart phones for years and I only got my first one last October. I work with some people who have never used a typewriter or played music on a cassette.

I embrace technology, when it helps, but I am concerned with the ultimate effect of the exponential pace of technological change and how easily people can discard the old for the new, even when the old is only a few years old.

I worry about seniors who can’t keep up. I watched an elderly man in the waiting room of a doctor’s office recently as he struggled to complete the medical history form on a portable computer-like pad device. He didn’t understand what he had to do, how to turn to the next ‘page’ – things like that. The staff was helpful and relatively patient with him, but two things were clear: he had no clue and the young staff person had never encountered somebody who didn’t understand how to use the thing. I bet that guy hasn’t purchased an airline ticket lately.

I worry about younger people who couldn’t survive a long-term power outage. That iPad won’t run for all that long if it can’t be charged. They’d have to write with a pen and paper. Oh no, not that! Actually I worry about all of us during a long-term power outage.

Technology can be a wonderful tool on so many levels but it can also be socially isolating … Facebook and automated voice answering systems are two examples of that. Right at the moment in our culture where computers are turning human I am looking to reach out and touch real people. As I so often say in this blog, balance is my keyword. I made dinner plans with a friend this week by texting and I made restaurant reservations online – technology as tools - but the important part was eating, drinking, laughing and catching up face-to-face.

I wonder if I’ll live long enough to hear a fifteen-year-old ask me this: “You actually sat across from each other at a table? In the same room? Wow, didn’t that feel strange?”


Linda V. said…
Great blog! I'm with you on this one, love some technology, (I have no problem with self-checkout or self-ticketing at airport) would love to get a smartphone, and an ipad. But, my problem is the high cost.

We would be in a world of hurt if the power grid went down. Nothing would get done, no gas pumped, no ATMs, no check out at stores, no access to med. history, no tv or internet, no water pumped into homes, no heat or cooling, no lights. I'm thinking alternative power sources would be a good thing to have....

We have one of each in this family, one tech geek (me) and one technophobe (hubby). I keep up some, and he will, whether he likes it or not! Lol.....:)