As the number of older adults in America continues to grow, so does America’s use of and fascination with technology. For a generation more used to putting a stamp on an envelope than tagging a friend in a photo, however, working with Internet-enabled devices can be intimidating and frustrating challenge. They want to use their phones, tablets and laptops to stay connected with family, friends and the world around them, but often struggle with how to use today’s technology to do so.
According to the Pew Research Center, 6 in 10 seniors now go online, and most seniors who become Internet users make visiting the digital world a regular occurrence. Yet despite the increasing number of older adults using Internet devices, most have a long way to go before feeling tech-savvy and it is not easy for them to get up to speed. Only 18 percent of users over age of 65 report feeling comfortable learning to use a new technology device such as a smartphone or tablet on their own, while 77 percent indicate they would need someone to help walk them through the process. Among seniors who go online but do not currently use social networking, 56 percent would need assistance if they wanted to use these sites to connect with friends or family members.
Enter Techno Tuesdays at Rianda House. Recognizing the desires and frustrations many Rianda House visitors were experiencing when it came to joining the technology revolution, Executive Director Julie Spencer called in the experts. With 9 out of 10 teenagers using social media platforms for up to eight hours a day, what could be better than getting a middle or high school student off their devices for an hour or two a week to help others who want to get on theirs?
Every first, second and third Tuesday at Rianda House, a rotating group of students from St. Helena’s Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School and Pacific Union College Preparatory High School in Angwin leave campus behind and head to Rianda House to take on the role of teacher. Eagerly awaiting them is a small gathering of adults ready to improve their ability to use their smart devices.
Technology is changing most everything we do today. After learning that 79 percent of older adults who use the Internet believe people without it are at a disadvantage, this was our solution to helping the folks at Rianda House stay in the game.
Although the photo app and email are the tools most requested by students, personal connection platforms like Facebook and Skype are popular as are the variety of health-tracking apps. Marina Maia, a senior at PUC Prep who has participated in the program since her sophomore year, looks forward to her time at Rianda House and knows she is not just helping others learn, she is also learning. “Their knowledge and perspective on life and the world is so deep. While teaching them I realize there is so much for me to learn,” she said.
PUC Prep Principal Heather Denton couldn’t agree more. “High school students today are so connected online they can suffer from a lack of human contact. Being with the adults at Rianda House helps them learn the art of conversation.”
Techno Tuesday participant Dennis McGuire didn’t see a lack of connection when working with RLS eighth grader Marlene Blanco. He described his experience as a win-win. “She was quiet, but she sure helped me get rid of things that were junking up my phone and had lots of helpful information about buying a new laptop.”
Like their high school counterparts, Marlene and her classmate Kenya Tapia also learn as they guide program participants through their phones. “We show them how to do things like find old emails, send texts and use Google maps,” said Marlene, while Kenya shared her fascination with earlier generations of telephone technology. “One gentleman brought in a flip phone and told us about finding numbers in the phone book, and another remembers having to connect with an operator to make a call.”
With the goal of providing Upvalley older adults with the tools they need to live active, healthy and fulfilling lives, Techno Tuesdays provides all that and more for both the young teachers and the senior students. And with technology changing daily, and 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, decades of opportunities abound for Rianda House to connect technology novices with technology natives while building meaningful personal relationships.
Techno Tuesdays classes are ongoing, free, and limited to seven students. Call Rianda House to sign up to learn the basic functions of your personal devices. Laptops & Tablets 101: first and second Tuesdays, 4-5 p.m, taught by RLS Middle School students. Cell Phone 101: third Tuesday, 4-5 p.m., taught by PUC College Preparatory students.
Rianda House is located at 1475 Main Street in St. Helena. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday – Friday. Call 707-963-8555, ext. 101, or visit website riandahouse.org to view the monthly activity calendar.