Ageism and Technology

A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a train, and a woman came up to me asking how to fix her problems in WhatsApp.

I wasn’t able to fix the problems that she was encountering with her WhatsApp. But my inability to fix the woman’s issues with her WhatsApp was not what led me to write this blog post.

Instead, it was something that the woman said, after concluding that I would be of no help in fixing her issues. She said something along the lines of: “I thought that, since you were a younger person, you would know how to fix this issue.”

“Since you were a younger person, you would know how to fix this issue.”

Now I really believe that this woman was well-intentioned, and I’m not mad at her. Not one bit. But at the same time, I think that this quote is only a microcosm of ageist attitudes when it comes to technology. Namely, the idea that all young people know their technology, and that all old people don’t know their technology.

Such attitudes are widespread. From a YouTube video with over 4 million views called “Old People vs Technology” to that one person at the subway station asking me about WhatsApp the other day, there is this generalized assumption that old people are technologically clueless while younger people like me are technologically adept.

Based on many statistics, as well as personal experiences, that isn’t necessarily a fair assumption to make. While it is true that people ages 65 and older have internet, cell phones, and broadband at lower rates than the rest of the United States population, 47% of seniors had broadband, 59% of seniors had internet, and a staggering 77% of seniors had cell phones as of 2014.[1] Basically, there is a large population of seniors who are technologically adept and buck the notion that seniors have no clue when it comes to technology. While more people under 65 than over 65 know these things, the population of “over 65s” who know technology and work with it is quite large.

So, the next time you are encountering technology struggles, don’t automatically think that a young person will automatically bail you out of your troubles, or that an older person would automatically be clueless on how to help you. Sometimes, the person most able to help you with technology woes is not who you expect. 


[1] http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/

13 Replies to “Ageism and Technology”

  1. Well. I am old. 69. And I am an “ageist”, I guess. There is something to the idea that those of us who were raised in the 1950s are not as comfortable or as astute with modern technology as younger folks. After all, younger folks now have their own cell phones or iphones and gamepads and download all those apps.
    The only apps I had as a youngster were my baseball glove and bat. My time was spent outside playing football and baseball and ice hockey in the homemade ice rink in the winter. My phone today is a flip phone . I just got a Lenovo tablet.
    Now, it did not come with any users guide. For me, that is a problem. I don’t have a clue as to what half of the “apps” are for. I did figure out which button turns it on!
    If my kids (in their 30s) come around they can help me out, Otherwise I am like a deaf man at rock concert. I know there is music but I sure as hell don’t know what it sounds like.
    As soon as I figure out how to use one piece of technology, it gets updated and changed.
    Don’t get me wrong.I don’t yearn for the “good old days”. I think modern technology is great. Although, to be honest, if I had internet when I was a teenager I probably would have flunked out of high school. Technology is seductive. And it changes the way we look at the world.
    In college my main task was to find a nice girl..who could type. No computers. Not even a xerox. Research had to be done by trudging to the library and hunting down actual newspapers, academic journals and books. And hand copying information.
    I read on my google news page , about 20 stories down, that 3 new space travelers had arrived at the space station. I recall watching on TV when the FIRST American went into space. It was thrilling. Now, space travel doesn’t even rate a headline.
    I could go on. I love the new tech, but I can’t keep up. Each of us is a prisoner of our formative years. So, I am an ageist. Not in a bad way (and there are exceptions, of course). But the pace of technological progress, while great, is just too much.
    So, if you see me struggling with my tablet, don’t be shy. Help a blind man across the street.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely…if I see you struggling I will try my best to help. But no guarantees…after all, I barely use WhatsApp!

      I guess we come from different perspectives, which is fine. My superior at a small nonprofit I volunteer with is about 40 years my senior, and he knows how to operate some technology better than I could. He knows how to start a three-way call (I’d be lost trying to do that) and he knows how to start conference calls (a skill I don’t have, yet). Plus, my dad knows how to do certain things with my phone that I don’t.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This made me chuckle, Brendan. My grandson likes to remind me that “old people” (like me) have a hard time with technology. I do. But I have learned to ask for help with things I can’t easily figure out. Age has little to do with my skills (or lack thereof) or my choices of whom to ask for help, although I have been disappointed by those who claim to know things they really don’t. And that claim isn’t age-related either. 🙂 (I don’t think that’s what you did, by the way. You were kindly responding for a request for help and were treated rudely.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad, Carol. We can all use a chuckle.

      I used to have the same stereotype that your grandson has. Really, I did. But then I got to know “old people” know know technology better than I do!

      Good for you for learning to ask for help, and for not letting age be a factor in your choosing who to ask for help. Anyway, the person most able to help is probably the technology whiz in the family or friend group (if there is one), regardless of age. 🙂

      Like

  3. Yes I have noticed this lots of times in lots of situations – older people who think that younger persons can resolve every issue on every computer/smartphone device and younger people who believe older persons can’t do anything on any computer/smartphone device…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nobody knows everything. And who do you think invented computers and the internet? People who are old now. But I confess that when I’m in an Asian country I’ll often approach someone in their teens or early twenties, knowing they have probably learned English. It’s fair enough to follow a hunch but not to lay expectations based on age, don’t you reckon?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing. Since ageism is something I care deeply about, I am happy to give feedback.

      I think that you raise some issues as they relate to ageism and younger persons, which I appreciate a lot. We are often viewed as not having the experience or the wisdom to do much of anything.

      However, we should recognize that people of any age can either perpetrate or be the victim of ageism. There are often arguments that one is “too old” or “too senile” for something, such as…I don’t know…leading a country. And many indeed argue that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are “too old” to be president.

      People in their 50s had a hard time finding jobs during and after the Great Recession. Why? Because of ageist beliefs, such as the thought that it would be “hard to teach an old dog new tricks” or that they are “overqualified” (often code for: too old and experienced)–excuses I heard.

      Once again, ageism can be exhibited by anyone at any age, and anyone at any age can also be a victim of ageism. The Gray Panthers, which I am deeply involved with, started with ageism against a group of older persons, after all.

      Like

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