Technology 101
Seniors “Byte” Into New Devices and Doo-dads
By Dan Hanson
Do you ever feel left out or clueless when you watch your grandkids effortlessly use their video games, computers, fancy cell phones and iPods? Maybe you’re just not smart enough. After all, you can’t teach an old dog a new trick, can you?

Well, you aren’t a dog, and technology isn’t a trick.

Arthur C. Clarke, a famous science fiction author, inventor and futurist, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Our great-grandparents would have considered record players and television magic and, perhaps, scary. But, having grown up with them, our generation took them for granted. Well, that’s how young people today feel about their familiar technology.

It’s been said that anything that gets invented after you turn 30 seems against the natural order of things. If it’s been a long time since you turned 30, there have been myriad inventions that probably seem strange and unnatural to you.

Just think of the advances that have been made in the last 100 years or so. We’ve seen the invention of the car, the plane and the rocket ship. We’ve gone from the Pony Express to the telegraph to the telephone to the cell phone. We’ve progressed from hearing a voice on the radio, to seeing a blurry image on those first TVs, to seeing a high-definition image on the huge color screens of today.

Now we hear of Facebook, Twitter, iPods and other modern technology, and they seem so strange. They must be difficult to use. Only kids can use them. We’re not smart enough, right? Wrong!

Somehow you made the transition from LP records to eight-track tapes, audiocassettes and CDs. Why do you think playing music on a new device (such as an iPod) will be so much harder?

You may have watched eight-millimeter movies that you had to thread through a projector. Let’s see a youngster manage that task. Then, technology improved and you could just pop in a videotape. Even if your VCR always blinked 12, somehow you were able to adapt to the new technology.

Let me let you in on a little secret. You don’t have to be a programmer or engineer to use these new devices.

Although some people change the oil in their cars themselves, most of us take our cars to professionals for the service. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to drive. Likewise, you don’t have to know a thing about bits or bytes to be able to use modern computer technology.

There was an important reason Bill Gates included the game of solitaire with every copy of Windows. He realized that using a mouse was not as intuitive as using a pencil. If people tried the mouse and had problems with it, they might get frustrated and give up. But, solitaire was a non-threatening, unimportant game that let you move the mouse around as slowly or as sloppily as you wanted. So what if you overshot the black eight with the red seven? It didn’t matter and you could try again until you succeeded. After a while, you mastered the mouse and Microsoft had another customer.

If you are reading this magazine, you have the ability to use 99 percent of the tech gadgets and applications on the market today. The only problem is that you may be unfamiliar with them, so they may seem harder and more mysterious than they actually are. With a little time spent learning the basics, you will be able to accomplish what you want.

Enough of the pep talk. In future columns, we’ll look at some specific new technologies that may be of interest, such as Facebook and Twitter. And, if anyone tries to dissuade you by saying you’re too old, you can use this quick retort as a comeback: The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is women over 55.

You, too, can become “tech smart.” Don’t let kids have all the fun.


Dan Hanson has been working with computers since grade school (a long time ago!) and first got online in 1983. He is a mathematician but assures people that they don’t have to be one to use and enjoy modern technology..