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Retired female watching video on computer, delighted to see her grandchildren
Retired female watching video on computer, delighted to see her grandchildren
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Need Help With Today’s Technology? Ask Your Elders!

Originally published at Newsmax

I made a new friend recently in an unlikely place—the comments section of Newsmax.com.

In response to a recent post for my Newsmax column, Dorothy shared of her experience as a telephone company switchboard operator from 1949 to 1952. In her initial comments, she recalled a nugget of wisdom she’d once heard from someone: change is not always progress.

We got to talking. Born in 1932, Dorothy has lived in several states in America and held jobs at a telephone company, the U.S. Air Force, American Airlines, a travel agency, a Tupperware sales agency, and more.

She’s lived through countless technological developments in every area of life. Just in the realm of communication, she’s gone from a crank phone to a cordless phone, black and white TV to Netflix, and a teletype machine to a desktop computer.

“Basically, it’s the story of our lives,” she tells me in one of our chats over the phone, “and the tools we use to live.”

At 89 years young, Dorothy continues to live authentically with technology, embracing the tech tools she needs while leaving out what isn’t helpful to her.

She doesn’t own a smartphone, doesn’t have any social media accounts, and though she receives emails, had never actually sent one until we met.

But she orders her groceries online, comments prolifically on current events via Newsmax.com, plays games on the computer, and streams TV shows through a variety of apps on Roku.

We’ve discovered we both have a fondness for British detective shows like VeraShetland, and Endeavor.

And we both have what could very well be the secret to living a long and happy life – a sense of humor.

In her book Stories of Elders: What the Greatest Generation Knows About Technology That You Don’t, anthropologist Veronica Kirin interviewed 100 elders across America about their experiences with technology.

She notes that it is often “the speed of development that causes our discomfort with tech.” After absorbing a richness of perspective from her interviewees, Kirin concludes that “firm roots in history will provide a steady foundation for this evolution” of technology that each of us lives through.

What about you?

Has the barrage of modern technology left you spinning, or isolated, or frustrated?

One way to better relate to today’s technology is to get a big picture view. And the only people that can help you do that are those who have lived through more technological advances than you have – your elders!

Here are three ways they can help.

First, your elders can give you context.

Until you place something in its larger context, you won’t fully understand or appreciate it.

Seeing today’s tech as part of a larger landscape built on the technology of the past will give you context.

For example, my friend Dorothy was once “the voice with a smile” when she worked as a switchboard operator.

Hearing about her job informs my own view of phone communication. An actual human had to once connect one person to another so they could talk on the phone.

Now, we’re drifting away from phone calls in favor of texts. Dorothy has given me context in this area. I try to connect with a phone call more than via text, because I too want to be the voice with a smile.

Second, your elders can give you encouragement.

Quite simply, our elders have had more practice navigating technologies than we have. Listening to their experiences and perspectives will encourage us.

It can be stressful and confusing to keep up with the dizzying pace of technological innovation today.

Prior to the industrial revolution, innovation in tech moved at a human pace, dictated by the men and women who used various tools for their craft.

Now, we have teams at countless tech companies around the world actively working every day to update current tech and introduce new tech.

It can be exhausting and frustrating to keep up. Learning how our elders coped with technological advances will encourage us in our own journey.

Finally, your elders can give you wisdom.

Part of living authentically with technology is learning to manage your relationship with technology.

We have more information available to us today than at any other time in history.

But the wisdom to sift through all the information and make healthy choices?

That’s not as easy to come by.

In sharing their insights about technology, our elders can give us wisdom to make appropriate choices about tech, whether it’s deleting a social media account, adopting a new piece of tech, or deciding how much personal information to give to a tech company.

In the end, technology is all about us – our stories, our creativity, our resilience.

So although technology brought us together, and our chats have often been about technology, Dorothy and I are just two humans sharing the road for a while, exchanging stories and learning from each other.

Seek out your elders too, and listen to their stories about technology.

They may not have all the latest gadgets, but they have something much more valuable—a grander view.

Andrew McDiarmid

Senior Fellow, Media Relations and Assistant to the Director
Andrew McDiarmid is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. He also serves as a Media Relations Specialist and Assistant to CSC Director Stephen C. Meyer. He holds an MA in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University and a BA in English/Creative Writing from the University of Washington. His tech column at Newsmax, Authentic Technology, explores today's technology landscape and encourages readers to live authentically in the digital age. His writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, The Herald (UK), BreakPoint.org, Technoskeptic Magazine, The Washington Post, and other publications. In addition to his roles at the Discovery Institute, he is host of the Scottish culture and music podcast Simply Scottish, available anywhere podcasts are found.