The first time we tried virtual reality, the residents at the retirement community where I work all made fun of me when I put on the goggles. But then I put the goggles on one of the residents and sent him to Rome. There is a screen, so everyone else can see what he sees as he explores the city streets. Then everyone was asking to go next.
I work as a technology concierge at the Watermark at Napa Valley in California. It’s a three-story retirement community with about 40 residents, ranging from their 70s to 90s. I mostly help residents with their everyday technology problems, like setting up their printers, sending emails and making video calls.
In my first few days, I went around the community and explained to them that they could come to me if they had a problem. They slowly started to warm up to me and asked some questions, like if I could print out a document or help with their iPhone. But the jobs become different as they learn more.
Residents get a guide to digital life
One resident runs a children’s foundation nonprofit, and she was still in the mindset that she needs a pen and paper. I helped her with social media and email so that she could transition to the digital world.
Another resident is an artist and author. I helped her scan and print documents, and did some research for her work.
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I also created video slideshows out of some of the residents’ old photos. They have had really interesting lives so far. Even the skeptical residents bring their friends by and ask me to show the slideshow on the TV above my desk. It’s really nice to see them opening up to technology and each other.
It’s also rewarding to see a resident take what I taught them and use it. I see them start to order their own things online, and they know where their passwords are saved.
Before me, the residents didn’t know where to turn since some of the staff still struggle with technology and residents’ families often get frustrated explaining things. I think people around my age expect older learners to understand instantly, like it’s nothing. But they have to learn about the icons and the symbols we grew up with. To them, it’s almost a different language.
Teacher learns value of patience
The key is to be patient. Otherwise, they get turned off to the idea, and they won’t want to touch technology. Then, they won’t get all the benefits, like accessing recipes or music, or connecting with their families online — which was especially important during the pandemic.
A lot of residents apologize when they ask for my help with technical problems. There is no need for that. They don’t need to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. It’s what I am here for.
And they teach me things, too.
The most surprising thing about this job is talking to residents and learning how successful they were from a young age. They are very open to giving me life advice and explaining how they could accomplish what they did when they were young. I take as much advice from them as I can.
— As told to Jenna Gyimesi
Tech tip: Turn learning into fun
One way to overcome feelings of intimidation when learning to use technology is to “approach it as a game,” says Roberto Enamorado, a trainer for AARP-affiliated Senior Planet.
“We may approach the idea of learning technology as something formal, serious and arduous. Chances are it will then incite a sense of apprehension or fear. But even small improvements can be a great confidence booster," he says.
"My top tech tip for older learners is to treat the experience like playing. The point of a game is to problem-solve, create strategies and find solutions to win," Enamorado says. "Start by setting a goal and visualizing what 'winning' would look like. Think about how to get there, and once you do, reflect on what you enjoyed along the way. Have fun with it.”
Learn more: Senior Planet offers free online classes and has a technology support hotline at 888-713-3495.
Jenna Gyimesi is an associate editor for the AARP Bulletin, working as part of a Columbia University fellowship.