Einstein's View on Seniors and Tech

When asked about the technology-savviness of our senior population, most people -- particularly the younger crowd -- would be quick to give low marks. But if you're one of them and presume it's simply because of their advanced age, you might want to reconsider after reading this column in a recent issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Consumer technology columnist David Einstein argues that most seniors shouldn't be any less computer savvy than the general population because Windows 95 was introduced more than 20 years ago and Netscape, the first commercial browser, has been around almost as long. That means people who are 75 today were in their 50s when Windows 95 and Netscape came on the market and as such, "should be well-versed in the basics of using a PC and the Internet."

"I would argue that most seniors are just as tech savvy as the 25- to 40-year olds who sleep with their smartphones, Instagram selfies and commune with hundreds of Facebook friends," Einstein says. "The difference is that many seniors don't have a real-life social network they can rely on for everyday technical support: the kind you get from your spouse, your friends, or, most importantly, your kids, who are way ahead of you on this stuff."

I agree with him to a point, but there's more to it. Mastering desktops or getting online isn't what trips up most seniors - both are practically as easy these days as turning on a television. But navigating mobile devices can be considerably more challenging for a variety of physical reasons, such as weakening vision and limited dexterity, and behavioral ones, such as contending with the constant introduction and upgrading of apps, each with their own idiosyncrasies and commands. Seniors didn't grow up in a world where people were tethered to handhelds and therefore aren't as naturally motivated or inclined to embrace their usage expectations or requirements.

Einstein is spot on, however, with his argument that seniors aren't surrounded with an immediate and diverse network of friends, family, and co-workers who are often immediately available to troubleshoot technology challenges. I'm fairly tech savvy but still find myself leaning on our head of product for technology help. He has multiple engineering degrees from Stanford, so he's a great one to have around when the Mac starts giving me that spinning wheel of doom. To be fair, my wife is also a big help troubleshooting my technology hiccups at home.

As Einstein notes, senior centers and retirement communities increasingly offer computer literacy classes and support. Indeed, Jackie Siminitus, a former AT&T project manager, leads CareLinx's social media efforts and enjoys sharing favorite apps and technology trends when she volunteers at local community service agencies. Oh, did I mention she's eligible for Medicare?

Kudos to David Einstein for the thoughtful piece. It's rare to find a consumer technology columnist who addresses it from the elderly's perspective, which is unfortunate given that within 15 years more than 20 percent of the population will be over 65. It shouldn't take an Einstein to know the elderly comprises an increasingly important consumer technology segment.