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Is There A Way To Help The Luddites Among Us?

At this point in the coronavirus war, most tech-savvy boomers (and younger people, of course) have found an assortment of ways to keep in touch with one another: family Zoom time, Skype lunches, WhatsApp check-ins, and of course good ole’ email and texting. But what about those who had previously chosen not to be tech-enabled? 

The term Luddite is often applied to those who lag behind or entirely reject labor-saving technology. According to Merriam Webster, the term comes from “the name of a group of early 19th century English workmen who destroyed laborsaving machinery as a protest; today it is broadly applied to one who is opposed to technological change” and there are many older adults, especially those in their 80s and 90s, who find themselves in that group. They are likely not opposed to technological change, rather they find themselves intimidated by it and believe life to be easier and less complicated without it.  

I don’t want to automatically label all older adults who are 80-something, 90-something, and even those over 100 as Luddites. I know quite a few 90-somethings who have smartphones and use them for phone calls and email on a regular basis. My friend Mary lived two states away from her mother and they Skyped every week. It allowed Mary to make sure her mother sounded and looked healthy. Their final Skype session was when her mom was 98. She passed on a week later.  

Enter the pandemic and its accompanying social isolation. What of those cherished loved ones among us whose lives still resemble the 1980s? Since we can’t physically be there with them, is there any way we can help them get connected at this stage of the game? 

If your older relative or friend is willing to give it a try, here are some of the best resources available and some suggestions from an expert on how to get them online with the least amount of frustration and complication.

Annamarie Pluhar founded and runs Patient, Sympathetic Coaching. She started the business specifically to help older adults get comfortable with technology. Annamarie recommends tablets as the best device for the older newbie. She says, “Because they are designed for touch, they can be much more intuitive to use. Says Annamarie, “most of my clients want a device for texting, email, videoconferencing, and internet browsing. All of these can be done easily on a tablet. Because challenges with vision increase as people get older, the larger screen gives tablets a big advantage over Smartphones, plus, the text on a tablet can be made larger when needed.” 

She adds, “it is also a good idea to include a stylus when purchasing a tablet for an older adult. Our hands tend to dry out as we age and some of the touch gestures may not respond as easily as with more moist hands. Lotion can help with that as well.” 

 Tablets can be a bit pricey for some budgets, but there is no need to purchase lots of additional memory, which runs up the cost. An entry-level iPad or Samsung Galaxy is often the best solution. Gently used tablets can also be purchased at a significant savings over brand new models. Annamarie suggests Gazelle as an excellent site for purchasing a previously owned tablet . 

You may also be tempted to purchase a device like Alexa or Amazon Echo. They offer a lot of advantages for older adults, like keeping lists, setting medication reminders, playing music and listening to audio books without having to get up and find another device to turn on. However, at this time, when you are unable to be with your older relative or friend for setup and coaching, sticking to a tablet is probably enough of a challenge for everyone involved. 

Since stores where you might purchase the device are not currently open in most areas of the country, you will need to purchase the tablet online, order the necessary subscriptions, and have it delivered to your older loved one. Then comes the hard part: you or someone will need to help them set up the device for use. This will take patience. You probably have the time, but do you have the patience to gently and respectfully walk through the process with someone who has never touched an electronic tablet in their life? You may be better off recruiting someone else to do this for (or with) you–someone who does not have a prior relationship or history with your friend or relative. And, of course, it will have to be done remotely, using only a telephone with the speaker activated.

Who could you hire? There is already no shortage of people who need some kind of remote employment now and would be willing to give it a try, but your best bet might be a teacher who is currently out of work. Ask your friends or post something about it on your Facebook page or on I can guarantee that you are no more than three degrees of separation from a teacher. Another option is to find someone like Annamarie who specializes in just this kind of thing. If you want to ask her opinion, you can reach her through her website.

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