Give me back my iPhone, Grandpa!

Also, get off Facebook and don’t say LOL, ’cause you’re old and old people just shouldn’t.

More and more recently, that old man meme about how Grandpa can’t understand iPhones, Linux, or the cloud is showing up more and more often. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of computerworld claims that the joke is becoming “increasingly irrelevant.”

The article, Grandpa the programmer, argues that older people (baby boomers) are just as competent in using new technology as are us younger folks. I know I’m asking you think way back to the beginning of the semester, and I know how hard that might be, but bare with me please. We spent more than one class discussing the notions of technology immigrants and technology natives, where we labeled those people born into the Digital Age the natives and those who have, at a later point in their lives, adopted new technologies the digital immigrants. If I remember correctly, we (yes, me too) argued that it was practically infeasible for technology immigrants to adapt to the Digital Age environment entirely. Now, jump to the reading for this week (if you read it). In chapter one, Norman argues, to some extent, that digital immigrants have a hard time adapting to new technologies. He gives several charming anecdotes regarding this idea that when new, more intricate gadgets come to the market, people, particularly older people not accustomed to the maturation of technology, just don’t know how to work them! These seemingly true stories magnify Norman’s persuasion and credibility. I mean, I totally want to believe him that the maturation of technology is growing at a speed that digital immigrants just cannot keep up with, right?

But now, we have Vaughan-Nichols writing in plain contrast to this idea that has been brought up time and time again. I think we were so into telling our own stories about our own grandmothers and grandfathers not knowing what to do with an iPad that we didn’t even think about the age of the creator of the iPad. Apple is seemingly the leader in producing brand new, state of the art technologies — probably the most popular gadgets that old people can’t figure out. But the CEO of Apple, is no spring chicken! He’s plenty old enough to be a grandfather and he must understand technology in order to develop such innovative ideas and successfully bring them to the market.

I understand that Vaughan-Nichols is talking a lot regarding the actual creation of the code, and that’s much different than just adapting to a tangible product. But didn’t we say last week that older people were more about Facebook because they didn’t have the time or the skill for all the HTML included in Myspace?

I’m not going back on my argument that it’s more difficult for people not born into the Digital Age to pick up a brand new gadget — mostly because my grandma asked me where the keypad was on my phone at dinner last Sunday and because my mom continually asks me for the meaning of those stupid text message abbreviations. But I think it’s super interesting to think about the creators of these technologies that us young kids are infatuated with. They could be my grandfather!

What do you think? Does the baby boomer generation understand technology and all it has to offer? Or were you right saying that they cannot ever entirely grasp new gadgets?

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14 responses to “Give me back my iPhone, Grandpa!

  1. It’s tricky to attribute qualities to entire generations. For example, Mark Bauerlein’s ‘The Dumbest Generation’ that we discussed in class does not paint a kind picture of our generation, and also not an accurate one when it is applied to those of us in Barrett. This is because we may have grown up as a generation in the same sociopolitical environment, but we still grew up as individuals in different families and schools.

    I’m sure the CEO of Apple is not the exception to the “rule” that those in older generations do not understand new technology. As Vaughan-Nicols suggests, it seems likely that many individuals in older generations are capable of catching on to new technology just as easily as younger generations, so instead of generalizing about generations, it might be more helpful to ask the question, “Does this individual member of the baby boomer generation understand technology and all it has to offer?” Your example of the CEO brings up an important characteristic of individuals that might influence whether the answer to this question is ‘yes’: education. Tim Cook (Apple CEO) is in his 50s, but he also has degrees in industrial engineering and business. Perhaps well-educated people like Cook are more likely to grasp new technologies, even if they aren’t ‘digital natives.’

    • I’m very glad that you brought up the factor of education. I agree entirely that well educated people are more suited to take on to new technologies — just as they are more suited to take on really anything. But I think they will forever have a footprint in the past. Consider our parents, who (at least in my case) have adapted very well to this new digital age, but we have real encyclopedias on our bookshelf at home. And they aren’t gross and dusty, my mom still references them frequently. And she has degrees in marketing and journalism. So here, I don’t think it’s really a case of her education holding her back so much as it is her tie to her generation.

      I think you’re arguing here that I’m taking an individualistic approach to support my claim. But I’d still argue that this whole idea rests on the generations. Perhaps your example of Barrett students not fitting into the “dumbest generation” highlights a small exception from a different point of view.

  2. I think another factor that matters fairly significantly in all this is how necessary technology is to that individual person and their daily life. For example, My grandfather is probably the most well acquainted with technology of any person over 70 that I’ve encountered. He’s semi-retired now but when his career was still fully fledged he was an avid business man and real estate agent and was busy at almost every hour of the day. That coupled with his extremely open mind turned him on to technology and computers immediately because he knew turning to those resources would allow him to do what he was doing but faster and more efficiently. To someone who’s occupation wouldn’t require the use of technology, the idea of grasping on to a whole new concept like a computer or an iPad would seem like somewhat of a daunting and unnecessary task.

    I think you’re point about baby-boomers not understanding all technology has to offer is probably one of the greater hurdles for them to jump over. I feel like the amount of “training” to get them up to speed on how to use whatever device they’re being introduced to seems like it outweighs the actual benefits of whatever the technology will allow them to do. Technology has that the capacity to make all of our lives better in one way or another and if they can understand that concept and see what it does for people then they would grasp on to the technology more willingly.

    • All I know is that my 85 year old grandfather that barely graduated high school can barely turn his computer on. Heaven forbid he has to change an ink cartridge. However, he certainly didn’t work an office job, preferring instead to work as a handyman.

      Education as well as job experience and career track would seem to me to be good predictors of one’s level of technical expertise.

  3. This is a tough one. Using my own family as an example, I would say yes, the older generation is as technologically proficient as I. However, this does not apply to all in their generation. I think it really goes back to, as we discussed at the beginning of the semester, a desire to be technologically proficient and adopt technology into our lives. Some of the baby boomers may not see why technology is a valuable asset to our society. They may be resistant in changing their ways, and resist developing technological proficiency. Others, like my grandparents, are excited and eager to get new technologies and learn how to use them. My grandpa was a captain in the Navy and used the one of the very first computers ever built (back when they were the size of a whole room!). His generation was the beginning of the introduction of technologies like computers. From then on, although it took some time, they have embraced the technological boom and adopted it seamlessly into their lives. I also have great aunts and uncles that use Facebook and twitter a whole lot more than I do directly from their smartphones. The claim that our grandparents’ generation is not technologically proficient as ours is false because many baby boomers have adopted technology into their lives and are able to use it. And while many may not be as proficient or technology connected as our generation, those who have the desire to be, are.

    • I agree with Kelli! My mom, who is technically a “digital immigrant” is just as proficient (if not more) proficient in technology than I am. However, my grandparents on the other hand have absolutely no idea how to use the new forms of technology. I believe that there is some group between the digital immigrants and digital natives that my mom and other adults of her age fall into. Our generation (otherwise known as the digital natives) are completely accustomed to technology and not as shocked when new things come out. The older generation likely cannot fathom spending such an extreme amount of time learning how to use new technology. I believe the middle-aged digital immigrants, though, are still completely fascinated by the capabilities that we now have. They are not quite old enough to be frustrated by technology, but they are not quite young enough to be bored by it. I think these people are the ones that are really the most prevalent on the internet!

  4. I think that we cannot label an entire generation as one thing or another. I mean, yes, younger people seem to be more up to date on technology, but is it because we are more cognitively capable of keeping up? Or is it because we have more time on our hands to play with these new gadgets? I mean, my mom got an iPhone last year and I had to teach her how to do EVERYTHING. But I obviously could adapt to using an iPhone much easier because I had access to a very similar technology, my iPod touch, for years. My mom didn’t have access to a similar technology. After a little bit of time, she could use her iPhone just as easily as I could use mine. Another example is my grandma. She has an android phone, an iPad and a kindle! She has more technology than I do! And she can use all of that technology with ease. I think a lot of whether or not an older person can use technology depends on how much they sought to use the “new” technology of their own era. Because my grandma started using computers when they first became available to the public and she has always kept up. So she is still a very technology savvy person today. Other older people have not dedicated as much time to keeping up, and that’s why they have fallen behind. I don’t think they are incapable. i think they just never dedicated as much time to learning it.

    • Good point about having access to the similar technology! That does seem that it could play a significant role in how easily we can adapt faster than our parents. I also agree with you on the fact that we can’t label an entire generation as one thing or the other because I know some older people who are better with technology than some of the younger people I know. I think that a big limitation for really old people specifically grandparents (70+) is that they can have some physical limitations such as eye issues or joint problems that keep them away from this type of technology. I think with almost anything, practice and time will make you capable, but it just may take more time for specific older people or specific younger people.

  5. I think I stand by what we said in class about older generations being less likely to fully adapt to new technologies. I would also agree that more educated, therefore higher socioeconomic status, would be more able to gain at least a modest proficiency with new technologies. I’m sure everyone has an example of someone they know who is older and is technology savvy, but i still think those people are the exception to the rule. I think what Lauren said above about her mom and her encyclopedias illustrates the differences between our generation and our parents generation exactly. If someone in our age group had a question about something our first instinct would be to Google it, while someone our parents age would first go to the resources they’re comfortable with (like an encyclopedia) then if that failed check the internet. For example at the start of this semester my mom, who has a masters in history and home economics, gave me a pocket dictionary. I don’t think I’ve broken the spine yet because if i have a question i go to dictionary.com or spell check on MS Word, but it’s a resource that she uses often. It’s not that older generations cannot adapt to and use new technologies, but it’s not instinctive for them like it is for us.

  6. Like many people have already said, I also believe that proficiency in technology cannot be applied to any one generation. Some older people I know wouldn’t know how to find the power button on a computer, but some are so acquainted with it that they could easily beat me in a game of Fruit Ninja on the iPad. In saying that, there are kids in the younger crowd who aren’t so technologically diverse, and there are also some who can make a computer program right on the spot.

    I honestly don’t think it matters the age of the person, but rather their desire to learn how to use new technologies. Some people are just drawn to it and it becomes their passion all throughout life; on the contrary, some people are indifferent about it and don’t really care whether or not they are completely up to date with the latest technological knowledge. My grandma is one of those people where technology plays an important role in her life. With my grandpa being gone, she uses her iPad and her cell phone to Skype, text, send emails, etc. because she likes to stay in touch with everyone or else she gets lonely. Since she lives in a different state, her passion of technology helps to fill voids that there otherwise might be. My 24 year old cousin, though, really has no desire to be technologically savvy. It’s not that she can’t be, but it’s that she doesn’t have a passion for it like my grandma. And because she doesn’t have a passion for it, she wouldn’t know how to operate an iPad or any other advanced product.

    Really, what I am trying to say is that I don’t think one generation is more capable of handling technology than the other. It has nothing to do with technological smarts. Instead, it deals with the desire of each person to want to become proficient with technology. And in more cases than not, I think the younger generation has a greater desire, but that’s not to say that the older generation lacks any skills to become just as technologically abled.

  7. I’m pretty sure the argument that old people are technologically illiterate is a bell curve argument. As the author of the linked article pointed out, there are plenty of old folks who understand technology more than most of our generation, and no one can argue with that. However, we need to see some evidence that those people aren’t the outliers.

  8. I feel as though this stereotype has been propagated enough. I personally believe technological prowess is something that depends on the personality and experiences of the technology user. My parents are both of similar age, from communist-era Prague, and both have post-graduate degrees. While my mother has difficultly following the purple line as shown by her gps, my father has helped program devices at Mayo and uses technology to communicate with his fellows and family. The ability of and older gentleman/lady to use technology isn’t a question of their actual skill – it is more a question of their ability and need to adapt, as dictated by genetics and environmental influence.

  9. I never really understood this meme until I heard stories from friends about how technologically incompetent their family members are. I grew up in a family where everyone (including my grandparents of 70+) know how to install an operating system, troubleshoot technical problems, (as technology advanced) use a smartphone, etc. It is simply an unfortunate fact that stereotypes tend to be based off of what is majorly observed and tend to propagate themselves just as easily as those not in the group can propagate them. My grandparents would even say that this stereotype is applicable to their generation based on how many times they’ve been called to help their friends with technical issues that they’ve given up on before even attempting to understand. So I would say that technology is not beyond anyone who is willing to learn and the stereotype of technological incompetence should fall more on those who give up before even making an attempt to understand.

  10. Like others said, it’s incredibly awkward to apply stereotypes to whole generations because there are just too many people to consier.

    As soon as I read this post, Dennis Ritchie and Richard Stallman came to mind. Linus Torvalds did too, but he was a sophomore in college when Linux came out, so he’s not nearly as old as the other two. Funny how the article mentions those people exactly. Other people who helped create UNIX like Dennis Ritchie now work at Google and they are probably well into their 60s or 70s. It really depends on who you look at. If you think about it, the people that are ‘old’ nowadays are the generation that INVENTED modern computing as we know it today. Even I was surprised to learn that my dad owned a computer before hard drives were popular (you had to save it to floppy disks); he installed his own hard drive in the computer himself!

    It’s really not incapability as it is willpower. If someone doesn’t want to learn — just like how I don’t want to learn how to develop film photography, I’d rather just do digital — it doesn’t mean they’re dumb or it’s impossible for them to do it. They just don’t feel it’s important. After all, if you’ve lived 60 years of your life without computers, and you’re retired… do you really need to learn it? We may say yes, because we can’t imagine life without it. But if you see it from their perspective it may make sense. At the same time though, other older people may just have the desire to learn new technologies because hey, it looks cool.

    Of course for older folk that are still working, it can be harder to keep up because of how fast modern computing evolves nowadays. Competition means that they’ll have to quickly learn new technologies or even go back to school for that.

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