Thursday, December 18, 2014

Digitally Illiterate But Able to Learn

The digital age has been around long enough for most of us to be at least minimally acquainted with the lingo, but apparently that isn't so. I had a telling illustration of this today via a chance interaction in a store. Allow me to expound on this.

While waiting for my package to be prepared, I overheard a conversation between an elderly man and the man behind the counter. The store is one of those that provide not only shipping services, but fax preparation, computers for preparing short documents and assorted tools to prepare small booklets. It's a great all-in-one spot for some people, but for others it is a place of confusion no matter the efforts to help.

I heard the discussion as the man was first directed to the correct paper weight for his intended use (he had selected a too-heavy stock for a laser printer), then a blank look came over his face and that of the guy behind the counter. What caused this absolute lack of connection?

The man had written a book some years ago, had it printed at this shop and now wanted to revise it. Simple, right? No, not simple at all.  Receiving no solution for his quandary, he wheeled on his heel and began to head for the door as I stepped forward. Never having been a Girl Scout I am, nevertheless, willing to offer help when I can. I thought I might be able to help him.

I began with a simple question. "What is it that you want to do with your book?" He looked at me as thought I had just broken into his home, but stopped and briefly explained he wanted to revise his book. "They're telling me that I have to scan all the pages and then revise it, but I can't do that." My next question was pretty elementary. "What type of software are you using?"

"Software? I don't know anything about that." I explored a bit more. "What digital format is your book in and what do you want to do with it? Perhaps make it into an ebook?"

"Now you're way over my head," he explained with no hint of a smile on his face. "I don't know what scanning it is or how to scan it.  I don't know what to do." I tried to offer some suggestions about how his dilemma might be resolved but he wouldn't hear any of it. His mind was made up. He lived in this world of computerized activity and he didn't even know what "digital" meant.

"I guess I'll just have to go back and retype the entire thing," he sighed. Well, yeah, I guess that's what he'll have to do and he probably won't do it with word processing software and there will be no digital footprint for his next go-round.  His work will be an exercise in frustration (constantly revising entire pages on a typewriter) with a hefty dose of anger thrown in for this infernal thing called "documents" and the Internet and things digital.

I can understand how he must have felt. My suggestions were of no use to him and he left with his ream of 20 pound white paper under his arm with a bit of an angry scowl on his face. He had been undone in his literary efforts by those in charge of the world; the coders, the digital literati and a bunch of kids. It was an impossible situation for him and I can imagine the beating that typewriter was going to receive once he got back to it.

I'd been naive enough to think that everyone knew how to use a computer and was at least minimally conversant with word processing software. I didn't expect expertise in Excel, PowerPoint, Twitter, YouTube or, heaven forbid, computer coding. The light bulb went off in my head and now I understand why the local senior centers are presenting basic courses in computer use and these courses are so painfully simplistic. It was simple because they didn't know anything about computers. Digital was entirely new and unknown to them.

Some were even afraid to turn a computer on because they thought they'd break it or it would jump forward and expect them to give all sorts of elaborate commands and they were afraid of computers. Yes, afraid. They also felt inadequate and unable to learn this "stuff my gran kids know all about."

My website does have a page on Computers where I point people to some simple programs that can be helpful. One of the best places, in my estimation, is YouTube where you can learn just about anything you need to know. The problem is breaking through that fear connection.

OK, seniors, you conquered cars without heaters or oil filters, you clipped coupons to get meat during WWII, you converted from gas lights to electricity and you got a checking account. You CAN learn some basic computer operations. Sure, it's effortful and maybe it's even a bit like learning a foreign language, but just because you're over 70 or so doesn't mean your brain has been put into cold storage. You can learn and learning will really increase your sense of mastery and even self-esteem.

I guess you could say I'm asking that you show a bit of bravery in this battle of the brains, but you will be rewarded. Learning to read opened worlds of wonder for you when you first went to elementary school and the computer will do that and more. It isn't a tool for storing recipes. I remember when that was how they pitched computers to women. Recipes? The computer is a time machine with more promise and wonder than I could ever explain to anyone.

Need a GED because you never finished high school because you had to go to work to help support your family? You can do it on the Internet. Thinking of taking a vacation, but you need some ideas about where you might go, what it would cost and whether or not you'd like it? Yes, again, the Internet is there waiting like some genie in a box for your commands. And the commands are real simple, mostly "Enter" and "Copy and paste." Go for it and be amazed.

Senior citizen doesn't mean it's all over and behind you. The wonder is waiting. Take the first step.

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