How to Help the Older Generation Bridge the Digital Divide

June 9, 2016

Two weeks ago, I got a phone call from my mom, who frantically informed me that she had lost her iPhone 6. I told her to stay calm and asked her if she could provide me with her user ID and password so that I could locate her phone remotely. At first, she could not remember her information but eventually she provided the requested detail. It turns out she had not registered her phone with her laptop, so I was not able to locate it for her. I suggested she visit her local AT&T store and ask them for help. Her phone was gone forever and she was sold another smartphone.

The experience of the day caused her intense stress and chest pain. Luckily her visit with her daughter, the cardiologist assured her that her heart indeed was all right. She felt helpless and vulnerable, as she had done something wrong. My frustrations with her and her inability to understand my instructions did not help. The good news was that my brother-in-law, in fact, backed up her phone the weekend before and therefore she was able to salvage the cherished pictures of her grandchildren.

The entire experience made me ponder: Here I was her 47-year-old technology savvy daughter, helping her with a simple dilemma. But it wasn't simple to her and my commands were foreign to her, a 69-year-old!

Today, it is easy for anyone who isn't comfortable using a smartphone or a computer to feel digitally illiterate. Approximately 15 percent of the U.S population is over 65 and may have found themselves in a similar situation. We need to help our elderly population, and provide them with easy-to-follow guidelines and best practices so that they know what to do in case they lose their smartphones or, worse yet, experience a security breach. Here are my top 10 recommendations:

  1. Assess your needs, buy a device that provides you with features that you are interested in and nothing more.
  2. Affix a label to the back of your smartphone with your name and phone number, or take a picture of your name and phone number so whoever may find your phone can return it to you.
  3. Buy insurance for your smartphone.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from Apple and other service providers. They can show you how to register your phone online and backup your data.
  5. Password protect your phone, and use passwords that you can remember but are hard for others to guess.
  6. Always upgrade the software on your phone, so that you are not vulnerable.
  7. Don’t load applications that you are not familiar with on your phone.
  8. Educate yourself by going to great online resources for senior citizens such as TechBoomers or Cyber-Seniors.
  9. Ask your grandchildren for online help. It will be a rewarding experience for both of you.
  10. A smartphone is just a tool to help you to expand your communication, so don’t be overwhelmed.

There is indeed a digital divide that exists between generations: One has spent the majority of its years without having access to digital communications and the other has been dependent on computers for accomplishing day-to-day tasks. The two generations can help each other and become enriched from their respective experiences.

We should lend a helping hand to our elderly neighbors and family members who may appreciate some basic guidelines so that they too can enjoy the wonders of the digital communications with more confidence.

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Written by

Maryam Rahmani

Maryam Rahmani is a technologist with over 23 years of technology, sales, and business development experience in the private sector. In January 2015, she decided to make a career change and to commit her energy and passion to digital safety. She is passionate about keeping the Internet safe to foster global growth and innovation. Maryam is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Electrical Engineering. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy at University of Maryland University College. She is an intern with Family Online Safety Organization.

Additionally, Maryam serves on the board of Society of High-Performance Computing for Professionals (SHPCP). She is also the Director for HPC in Cybersecurity Center of Performance (CoP) in Washington, D.C. Maryam is an advocate for STEAM (STEM+Art) career for women and is an active member of IEEE, SWE, and WIE.

Maryam lives with her husband and daughter in Washington, D.C. area.