Blog Post: The End of Innocence? Digital Divide Solutions

Digital innocents, usually seniors, have no digital connections. But we who navigate the digital life daily can help close the digital gap. Here's how.

DO YOU KNOW A DIGITAL INNOCENT?  Pew Internet coined the term Internet Innocents this year referring to people who were not yet online. Not surprisingly, many of the innocents are older adults. The innocents think this Internet/computer stuff is NOT useful to their lives in any way shape or form. But some of their comments we know are said out of FEAR. 

Not being digitally connected in some form marginalizes older adult’s participation in everyday life. Almost all government forms like Medicare, demand online filing, with few exceptions and those require travel and waiting. And it impacts those who are still active in the community also. A friend shared a story about a project on the Civil War from a local historic group. It was agreed that all would share information via email since time was critical to get the project completed for an exhibit. The problem was that two in the group didn’t have email, so all exchanges were then communicated by phone, adding frustrating extra work. 

So what's holding them back? It’s apparent that older adults have the least exposure to the newest technologies. But family members aren’t good technical support in most cases for they start their elderly relatives off and then drop the ball. The digital native tech support staff in Best Buy and Apple stores think differently in the “how to” space and can’t communicate effectively about technology with older adults who struggle with the new digital language.

The top complaints I hear from seniors: instructions that are over-their-head and "the person is speaking too fast" . Next of course comes the agony of speaking to technical support.

How can they be helped to overcome the obstacles? (Which are obstacles for more than just the elderly).

An older-adult friendly learning environment is critical. The perceived huge learning curve is still the biggest obstacle. Step one is building their self-confidence -- like success on turning on a device and using one feature. How about checking the weather  on their computer or phone, for example? Then follow up with little navigating steps by adding "crumbs" for them to want to follow -- their church website, google earth to visit their old neighborhood, Facebook links of relatives to see photos. It's important to communicate that to "get it all" is not important. I know plenty of 30 something’s that don’t understand all the features of the apps on their devices. And I point that out all the time, even me!

YouTube is also a great destination for everything. I wanted to find out how to program a thermostat in my house, and found several good videos that delivered what I needed. If I forgot how to do it, I can revisit the same video by simply bookmarking it. You name the topic and YouTube has it ... spend an hour with an "innocent" by asking their interests and then watch them light up at the video connections that will certainly “grease” their neural connections.

Mobile devices are saving the day. More and more Seniors are joining the digital world. Why? Their relatives have convinced them that iPads, and other tablets and smart phones, unchain them from a fixed desktop giving them (and their backs) a freedom they could not previously imagine.

When I am training "innocents," I use the remote phone example to remind them they adapted before. I become a drill sargeant about search techniques, but I will save that top priority topic for search ability. To me knowing how is the holy grail for online life.

Other easy start out tools has to include Skype The “my son hasn’t called in 3 months" flies out the window when they recognize that face to face is merely a free log on away and then it reduces their anxieties. We need to teach them how to download items they want to keep, configure new software and get apps they want to use, and to find contacts easily. We need to encourage the innocents to touch the iPad or other tablet, and see it won't break. 

We who possess the ability to help these innocents are contributing to the digital divide if we don’t step up. I don’t think there is any argument that isolation is a contributor to death in older adults. It matters and the time, well what is more rewarding that knowing someone can get connected.

Who can teach? High school students and other adult volunteers (senior to senior is the best) can be part of a digital brigade to help teach, train.

I will post programs both private instruction and public courses too. Sorry I stepped away, its good to be back. Cherie Lejeune, Digiboom.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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