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  • Ellen Owens-Karcsay

“I’m not sure what I am supposed to do here.”

The other day, I was multi-tasking in a video conference call and responding to emails—one of the hazards, or perhaps temptations, of working remotely. My mom, who is still trying to figure out the difference between “the cloud” (said with disdain) and Google Drive, was online, so I decided to send an instant message. I typed, “Hi, Mom!” a few minutes later, she typed back, “I am not sure what I am supposed to do here.” I typed back, “It’s like texting but on your computer.”

It made me smile because she DID know what to do.

It also reminded

me of the digital divide, the population gap between people who have embraced technology and adapted, and those who still find it challenging to navigate. The gap is also about a lack of access; access to education, the internet, software, and hardware. Compounding the issues is that the use of technology to transact day-to-day business has accelerated, leaving some in the wake of confusion.

Although my mom’s response elicited a chuckle, there is nothing funny about your parents struggling to communicate with healthcare providers or navigate online banking. It is frustrating.

The transition to remote learning for K-12 education has undoubtedly brought to the forefront the issue of access. Efforts have been made to increase broadband access to rural communities, vendors, and suppliers equipping schools with the hardware and solutions necessary for remote learning. While this is great, older adults still face challenges.

1. Education. Senior centers and libraries have traditionally been good places for seniors to access training and education on computer and internet basics. Many of these sites have closed or have changed their service model, reducing or eliminating the opportunity to learn necessary skills. As a result, fear of the unknown overtakes the risk of turning on the machine.

2. Healthcare. Telehealth is now mainstream, and many doctors’ offices convert patient consultations to phone or video conference sessions. According to Alison Bryan, Ph.D. senior vice president of research for AARP, “It’s clear from this study and AARP’s research that older adults are increasingly comfortable with telehealth and are willing to use technology to interact with their health providers.” Still, a large percentage of older adults are concerned about cybersecurity and the quality of care.

3. Banking. Many banks have closed branches or are only conducting in-person banking by appointment. While there has been a marked increase in seniors transitioning to online banking, older generations are still not accustomed to online banking. They are fearful that hackers will gain access to their hard-earned money, and their bank accounts wiped out. To someone on a fixed income, it is a constant source of worry.

Although this is the “new normal” and everyone will need to adapt, it is crucial to be mindful and aware that not everyone is starting from the same place. I am sure that we all have new and different concerns about the future. Older adults do as well and worry about the generations behind them. Practice patience, understanding, and be mindful when you encounter someone who isn’t quite sure what to do here.

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