Should the Mature Adult be Allowed Near a Computer?

By Terry Portis, PhD

Stories and videos of older adults being technologically awkward or clueless abound on the Internet. A cringe-worthy commercial from Europe shows an older man using his new iPad as a cutting board. Another shows an older lady pasting pictures of a vacation on her living room wall, having confused it with her Facebook wall. All of this makes you wonder if someone over 60 should be allowed near a computer.

But each year hundreds of older adults take technology classes at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). Classes are offered at area senior centers and on the campuses. Here we see a different picture of older adults and technology than what is sometimes portrayed in the media.

Digital photography is huge.

You don’t have to know what a selfie is to be interested. Now that cameras in devices such as the iPhone are so advanced, most people are always ready to take a photo. The best camera you own is the one you have with you. Like everyone else, older adults are taking thousands of photos and constantly sharing them. People also want to learn how to deal more effectively with an ever-growing collection of digital photographs.

Tablets are popular

A 2014 Pew Research study found that people who use tablets tend to be older. Some researchers seem baffled by this. They shouldn’t be. A larger screen is easier and more pleasant to use for the mature eye. Vision is not what it once was and neither is manual dexterity. A tablet is more desirable to access the Web and email than a smaller phone.

Another issue often overlooked for older adults is font size. Once you reach middle age, larger fonts are not only desirable, but often necessary. This is one reason adults flocked to devices such as the Kindle. Any book you purchase can be set to large print, making reading easier, especially helpful for longer reading sessions. We love our books, but we love reading those books more than just having them.

Web apps are important

Web apps and services such as those offered by Google offer convenient alternatives to installed software. You can email a friend, edit a photograph and make a phone call without ever leaving a browser such as Firefox or Chrome. Some have scoffed at laptops like the Chromebook, which essentially runs only a Web browser. Others love the simplicity of devices they never have to update and that do all that they need.

Facebook can make your life better

Some older adults have lost contact with their social circle because of retirement, death of friends and family, as well as people moving away. This can lead to a sense of loneliness or isolation. According to a 2013 article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, going online can have good benefits. Research found that Internet use may help reduce loneliness and increase social contact among older adults. Other studies suggest that online social interaction may help prevent depression. Services such as Facebook have become an important part of many older adults’ lives who want to stay connected with family and friends.

Food, water and Wi-Fi

A new tool for parents to motivate their kids is to threaten access to home Wi-Fi and their mobile devices. Some grandparents tell us they installed Wi-Fi in their homes because the grandkids were reluctant to visit without it. This desire for connectivity is not limited to young people, however. The usefulness of many Web services to younger and older adults is that we always have them available. Food, water and Wi-Fi, the essentials of life!

Never too late

It doesn’t matter how old you are, you never have to feel like technology has passed you by. It’s not unusual to see older adults working in an Apple Store or teaching technology classes on a college campus. Come take a class with us or at any of the other local colleges and you might be surprised at how much you like it. Go to for more information.

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