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When it comes to technology, why do people assume older folks like me don’t get it?

Some years ago, I joined a group of people seated around a large table waiting for a meeting to start. Next to me was an older guy who was obviously and vocally having some trouble with his laptop computer. Without thinking, I immediately reached over, grabbed his laptop, and said something like, “Let me see what I can do.”

“Oh, no,” he replied, pulling his machine out of my hands. “I don’t want you to fix anything. I want to figure it out. All you have to do is listen to my frustration.” I slid back into my seat.

In a split second, I had made an age-based assumption—an entirely wrong one. Bias comes in many flavors, but technology seems to bring out the age bias in everyone. 

I read recently that a human’s desire for novelty peaks around age 28. If that’s true, it’s no wonder we become less interested in shiny, blinking things as we age. Young people interpret older folk’s lack of interest as ignorance; older people see these new things like all the older new things that didn’t live up to their promises. Judgments abound.

I’d like to believe that with this changing dynamic comes healthy discernment, but alas, I see technology behaving badly in the hands of young and old alike. What’s a person to do?

It’ll take work, but I suggest we start by getting to know the technology we’re using, even when technologists would have us think it is a deep mystery understandable by only a precious few. Take time to read the manual. Organize a class at your church or local library. Listen to the old as you listen to the young. Whatever you do, don’t let someone else—a colleague, your mom or dad, your spouse, your grandkid, a salesperson—take the machine out of your hands.

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