What a simply marvelous idea....if only I could get the darn thing to work!!
Updated: May 21
If you have ever felt like technology is a test of brains, creativity, and willpower, you are not alone! Several of our readers have asked how to use specific pieces of technology (Zoom, Alexa, and WhatsApp, to name a few). While there is always a learning curve with something new, it can definitely be steeper when the underlying principles are foreign.
Because each tech works differently (e.g., even the same app/software works differently on different computers or with different versions), we are not going to get too specific. Rather, in this post we’re going to cover tactics that have helped us use new (or “auto updated”!) technologies.
1. Good ol’ trial-and-error: When we have a new piece of tech we like to push all of the buttons to see what happens. Usually the controls are located somewhere around the edges. Do not ignore the three little dots or the little arrows since they indicate a menu that is often hiding what you might be looking for! Don’t be afraid to experiment - the computer will not break. Worst case - turn it off and turn it on again.
2. Family and friends: Friends and family are the most likely to give you the honest low-down about what works for them. They also are the most likely to give free troubleshooting support. Judy’s son has software that lets him see and operate her computer! Whoever you choose, ask your techie guru to talk about what it does and the basics of working with it. As soon as numbers and acronyms come out, don’t be afraid to tell them that is not answering your question - explain you want to drive the car not maintain it. Unless you are keen on tech, focus on learning to do the things you want or need to do often and get other people to guide you through things you’ll only do once (like installing and setting up a program) - or better yet, get them to do it for you!
3. Browsing: For a specific problem, Tanis often finds that asking your browser (aka Mr. Google) the question in the same way you would ask a tech-inclined friend will frequently return the best answers. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, try a different way of saying it; sometimes simpler is better. For example, last week asking “LG android changes contacts background” produced nothing of value but “why is my smartphone Contacts background black?” was fruitful (it turns out that the battery saver “maximum” mode defaulted to black background - changing the mode did the trick). Tanis, who uses Google Chrome as her browser, bookmarks her favourite sites. Her bookmarks are organized into folders (and sub-folders!) so that similar ones are grouped together. See one “how to” page on how to do bookmarks.
4. YouTube: YouTube has a wealth of “how to” videos for almost everything imaginable - and not just how to use tech! Looking at the number of views, publication date, how many subscribers the author has, the ratio of likes to dislikes (aka “thumbs up” to “thumbs down”), and the description can help you figure out what the video’s about before watching it. Take a look at the highlighted bits of the YouTube screenshot at the end of our post to see what we’re talking about.
You can go-forward, pause, and go-back in videos for extra time with the bits that are of most interest. You can also get a text transcript of the YouTube audio, which can be an easier way to jog one’s memory. Here’s an example “how to” on how you can generate a script of the video.
5. DIY websites geared toward older adults: There are an emerging number of “how to” websites written for older adults. Two websites that we looked at are:
Technology Basics - STAR Institute pearl: good on how to ask Google
McMaster Optimal Aging Portal pearl: a weekly newsletter that is a great way to begin to explore the site
These sites are enormous and their coverage is extensive. A high-level visualisation (map) of what information is where and how to get to it would sure help with navigation! Nonetheless, if you are willing to explore then, like us, you will likely find your own “pearls”.
6. “Learn How” groups for older adults: There are groups whose mission is to support older adults in learning to use tech, like Cyber-Seniors. We would be unlikely to attend the scheduled tech sessions but there are good “how to” recordings on popular topics, and you can obtain a script (look for the three little dots!). While we’ve not used this service (yet), we can see how it could be a great alternative if family and friends aren’t an option.
7. Virtual Help Desk: Another option is online chat agents. Tanis likes these because they are usually responsive in a matter of seconds. They can also share links and images, which can sometimes be more helpful than flailing around with words over the phone. Be aware that many of these virtual agents start off the conversation as ‘bots’ (i.e., artificially intelligent computer-based entities) to ask questions to figure out what you’re looking for and direct you to the correct information. This isn’t necessarily a problem - bots can often solve your problem quicker than a human can and should transfer you to a human if your problem isn't solved relatively quickly. But if you are having a conversation that does not seem to make sense, try typing “speak with an agent” to skip the robot friend. Both of us only use the chat feature if we trust the vendor.
8. Put it into your own words: Making your own notes is (usually!) the most understandable way to describe something to yourself. Keep notes when you do something for the first time and update it as necessary. Jot down what makes your gadget go in a way that makes sense to you rather than having to rely on the manual, which may have been written by a 20-year old tech junkie.
- TAKEAWAYS -
Be reasonable - start small. When we first use a new “toy” we usually have a specific and immediate reason for trying it out. We use that to “keep our eye on the prize” and focus on getting familiar with where things are by using it for that one task. If it becomes useful for doing other things, so be it!
Be brave - help is available. If we get in trouble, we will try to back up and start over, falling back on friends and browsing the internet for help to dig ourselves out of holes.
Be curious - be prepared to invest some time. If she likes it, Tanis will use a time where she doesn’t need to use it to play with new tech for as long as she wants - to push all the buttons and check out how others use it without feeling pressured. This is where internet sites are a big help. It is very satisfying to discover a useful “neat” feature!
- IN CONCLUSION -
There is no one magical technology that everyone can use nor does everyone use technology in the same way. Exploring how to use your tech can help not just in gaining confidence with it, but may inspire you to use it in new ways. The more you explore, the broader your horizons become - which can make for a nice view when you’re done exploring! And maybe you’ll even end up teaching your kids a thing or two.
We’d love to hear what’s worked for you! Please add a comment below (you’ll need to login first) so we can share ideas with each other - strength in numbers!
Talk with you next week!