No, you are not hopeless with computers

drawing of woman. Left, Im hopeless with computers. Right,happy with tablet, "But I love my Sudoku, Skype, shopping etc.

Are you guilty (along with about 75% of the population over 65) of uttering nonsense like this?

“Oh, I’m hopeless with computers.” “I’m a digital dinosaur.” ” I’m useless with IT.”

Stop it, right now.

You’re anything but hopeless. You’re reading this, aren’t you? That means you are successfully using a computer or another device which is also a computer. (Unless you printed it out.)

When the Director General of Health delivers a report on the medical, practical and economic complexities of Covid-19, do you say, “Oh, I’m hopeless at pandemics”? No?

When you get into a car, do you say, “Oh, I’m hopeless at cars. I prefer to walk”? No?

We’ve had more than a hundred years to get used to the fact that when you buy a car, you don’t need to be an instant and complete and permanent and infallible expert on all things related to cars. In the olden days we did need to know how to change a tyre, replace a broken fan belt with a stocking, top up water in the radiator and so forth, and lots of people knew how to change the oil and replace spark plugs. With a modern car, we wouldn’t know where to begin. We drive cars, ride in cars, park them, and take them to the experts for servicing.

Computers are way more complicated than a self-contained tin can on wheels (even if said tin can contains its own computers) yet the moment we hit a problem, there’s a tendency to think: “It’s my fault. I should be able to fix this. I’m hopeless at computers.”

Then, as long as we’re at work in a reasonably sized office, we call the IT team. Fine! That’s their job. You can’t do their job, and they probably can’t do yours.

Computers in lockdown: no IT team

Yet strangely, when you’re at home in lockdown you revert to thinking, “It’s my fault, I should be able to fix this, the solution must be obvious to anyone except a complete ninny.”

The solution is rarely obvious, or you would have spotted it. But it’s often findable if you search and search again. And certainly, familiarity breeds familiarity, and practice makes… not perfect, but better. Don’t give up before you begin. You are a person capable of learning all sorts of things. A computer is just another thing.

And it’s not your fault. All usability problems are problems in the offending item, not the person innocently trying to use it.

So please, please stop saying you’re useless at computers or you’re a digital dinosaur. It’s just an old cliche that has a life of its own, a stupid meme. Or at least stop saying it to me.

  • I don’t believe you.
  • It’s a cop-out.
  • It’s a self-fulling prophecy.
  • This meme started in the 1980s and I’m sick and tired of it.

And if you attribute your “uselessness” at computers or the internet to the mere fact that you are over 50 or 60 or 70, I will start foaming at the mouth.

Who do you think invented the internet and the web? People who are now in their 20s or 30s or 40s?

You are very good at using computers

C’mon. You are way better than that. Just think of all the activities that you do successfully engage in with a smartphone, tablet or computer. Celebrate! You’re already a Stirling Moss on your digital device. Be happy. And don’t fret.

Yes, we all have computer problems and they can be very annoying. However, we can choose not to get our knickers in a twist, and instead find a video, the provider, a group, an expert to help. And otherwise, do what you do so well โ€” you are so ingenious โ€” and find a workaround.

Should I even publish this rant?

Aaargh. I’m usually so nice, aren’t I? But we all have a breaking point.

Now in lockdown, more than ever, I see people who used to self-categorise as hopeless-with-computers suddenly take off. Today, I see one on Twitter! Another is reading bed-time stories to grandchildren on What’s App! Another has started getting library books online! Using Skype, even hosting on Zoom or MS Teams!

After one hour’s training, it took four people in the Parkwood Village in Waikanae (including my sister) only two weeks and two days to train enough residents to have their first ofย  many twice-weekly Zoom meetings which now have around 25 participants. Suddenly, with lockdown it was necessary, and so it was done.

screenshot of 34 older people meeting on Zoom

Members of Parkwood Retirement Village meeting on Zoom. Screenshot by Parkwood Village residents via KC News.

So this is a golden opportunity to learn something new in a big hurry, or to invite someone to use a new app โ€” because right now we need different ways to connect and to create and write and entertain ourselves. Go for it, and have fun.

22 thoughts on “No, you are not hopeless with computers

  1. I’m chuckling, Rachel. I just had my fab computer techo access my computer remotely to help me with a problem. I love that he is an essential service working from home and I can’t catch Covid from him. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ But yes, I hear you. I’m one of those crazy old women who refuses to have the same password for everything … because, I have a fantastic memory… most of the time. This problem related to me resurrecting my old computer which has lain dormant for a year or more, and connecting to Onedrive. I recall when I opened our recruitment company in the 80’s and hubby wanted me to get a computer but I refused and insisted on a memory typewriter…. very quickly followed by a computer… but in the interim, when clients phoned for a ‘temp’… my colleague and I would say ‘hold the line while we search our database’ (and this meant quickly opening our wooden box of filing cards and then falling about laughing afterwards when we had filled the job successfully)… but it worked for a while…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m so impressed that you have a fab computer expert. What luck. And having different passwords is the opposite of crazy as you know. Memory fail? Get 1password.

  2. Sadje says:

    Youโ€™re absolutely point on. I never professed to be incompetent in IT but never was an expert at using it. But with time and practice I can manage most things.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Exactly. It’s all in the attitude. We are all capable of learning something new.

      1. Sadje says:

        Yes we are, unless we decide that we canโ€™t!

  3. Miraz says:

    And let us remember that in earlier times a ‘computer’ was a person, usually female, who did computations. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well said! How have we strayed so far…

  4. cedar51 says:

    If I had to…I would learn whatever. But even now I don’t want to learn the art of the new communication apps, including zoom. I don’t need it as I’m “home alone” on the usual platform of “life before now”. Okay if I was living at the above village, then so be it. And this isn’t because of my age…it’s just the way I chose the choices for me.

    What is more important for me right now, and yes this platform has certainly provided many answer is “feeding me from my own kitchen…” something that hasn’t been on my horizon for some years due to my varying reasons – my own hand disabilities, the lack of tools, my tiny weeny difficult to work in kitchen – which does have full size whiteware, but not much bench space. The majority of the food stuffs here, not even selected by me…another learning curve on how to make xyz from abc and still have it edible.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Learning learning all the way. It’s great, isn’t it?

  5. anne leueen says:

    I love this post. I have been working with computers since the days they did not have hard drives and operated from a floppy disk and we all had to know how to do everything via the dos prompt. But I have found that young tech support people tend to treat me like I’m a computer Luddite. So good for you for setting people straight. And I loved seeing the Zoom meetings at the elders home.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, I think that’s what got me all riled up: twice being at a Zoom event and hearing ageist comments and taking it very personally. Pioneers, both of us!

      1. anne leueen says:

        Right on!

  6. Thanks for setting the record straight. We oldsters are better than we think.

    John had two Zoom meetings which were iffy, because we didn’t know what we were doing. Yesterday we were involved within a family birthday on Zoom. The computer demanded a password that the organizers said was not needed. While the party continued without us, I downloaded the app on my phone. We made it to the party!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Of course you did.

  7. hilarymb says:

    Hi Rachel – I’m with Cedar on this … actually I don’t have a camera and the connectivity isn’t brilliant – and more to the point – I’m happy being out of zoom meetings – must cancel a request this a.m. – I’m enjoying the quiet time … and the few chats with people I come across in the street, or friends calling. I know I’m not losing the plot – but am realising lots is happening. Take care and enjoy the freedom of lack of demands … though I know a friend has turned her calendar over, so she can see the picture … and not the page of appointment blanks … all the best – Hilary

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You are doing what is right for you–perfect.

  8. Damyanti Biswas says:

    We all manage to learn things when we need to. And that is okay. We do not need to be experts at everything all the time.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So true. Stay safe.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Worse, I think is ignoring that whole segments of the population here don’t have access to wifi. Here the schools have all gone virtual. Unsurprisingly about 10% of kids are not “showing up” to virtual school. How did the administrators not know about how challenging it would be for poor kids with illiterate or non-English speaking parents to do school at home? My rant is done. I know that I changed the subject. I have used computers for many years and have figured out how to fix most things. The most helpful advice I ever got was to just turn the thing off!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m looking for ways to help with digital inclusion. Hang in there,Elizabeth.

  10. JoBish says:

    Necessity is the mother of invention … which is why the 94 -year-old father of a friend has now learned how to use Facetime to talk to his family during isolation. Another reason to be cheerful.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Great to hear this!

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