Honorary mentions today go to my dad, who’s been in hospital and is now at home recovering, and club member Harold who wrote to object to my rhetorical question:
“How can someone NOT know how to download, open, and SAVE a .pdf file?”
Having a relative in hospital is alarming at the best of times, but worse when said relative is a ‘smartphone refuser’.
A few years ago, when online banks started insisting on 2FA (look it up here) I would hear dad going on about how he didn’t have a cellphone, didn’t want one, and would change bank if they insisted he confirm logging in and subsequent transactions by SMS. How DARE THEY change things that had always worked well for him?
The world does change. It feels regrettable at times (why is everything ONLINE these days??) but it’s often for the better, and even when it isn’t, the new ways of doing things tend to be unavoidable.
As technology cycles roll on, missing out on one may not be the end of the world, but refusing to engage with any change at all is, eventually, likely to prove very isolating.
Hence my smartphone-denying relative was not included in the various family Whatsapp groups, which are handy for keeping in touch, and for spying on what grandchildren are doing.
Facebook and Instagram? What are they? (I admit to using neither myself…)
So when the stubborn old fellow ended up in intensive care for a week, there was no way for us to easily stay in touch. That must have seemed normal to him (hospitals were always like that in the past, after all) but was an additional stressor for the rest of us. Thank goodness for my sister, who lives locally, so phoned or visited the ward and kept me informed. On Whatsapp, on the smartphone.
By not much coincidence, a few days after getting out of hospital my dad celebrated his birthday (he’s old, as are many of you reading this) and the aforementioned sister and her family presented him with… a smartphone! And about time, too. But would he use it?
Besides Harold, several other people wrote this week to say that they used to buy ebooks back in the days when I would email them manually (we sell thousands each year, so changing that is not something I regret). But that, after ‘humiliating’ attempts to download purchases from the links now sent automatically by our shop, and being unwilling to risk being ‘scorned’ in articles like this one, they quit.
Well that’s bad. No one likes to lose customers, after all, even if it comes about through changes which vastly reduce the amount of daily gruntwork. And it’s not nice to think that, like an uncaring bank, we’ve contributed to people feeling left behind by the world.
Back to Harold, who ticked me off for the insulting suggestion that downloading and saving a .pdf file is more basic, and much easier, than learning to use a pencil to write your name.
Harold and I agree that the hard part with the latter is the actual holding and manipulating of the pencil, rather than say learning which letters of the alphabet make up your name. Kids pick that part up quickly enough.
And that it can take years to develop the necessary ‘fine motor skills’ required for name-writing. And that kids who never hold a pencil at home (for example, for scribbling, then for later colouring between the lines) are at a disadvantage when they begin elementarty school.
But computers! Horror of horrors! That’s much harder!
The problem, apparently, is that there’s no one to ask, no one to show/teach you how to do things. Which I daresay is true. Many of us get increasingly friendless as we age.
But actually? That’s NOT the problem.
Information technology is far from perfect, but it is, for the most part, designed to be easy to use. Did you ever hear anyone moaning about Facebook or Google being too complicated, for instance? And in language-learning, we have the famous Duolingo app, downloaded and used by hundreds of millions of people. It might not help you learn a language, but no one ever said it was hard to use.
“I can’t figure this out at all? What is it for? Which end goes on the paper? And why does it hurt my fingers so much? I’ll never get the hang of it!”
So much for pencils. With Google, you just type what you want in the box (typing is famously easier than pencils), and via!
For instance “how to download and save a .pdf file from a download link”. Then you read a few of the suggested results and…
We’ll leave that part for the moment.
Still with Google, suppose you have an iPad? Poor you. They’re terrible at things like downloading .pdf files and saving them, as Apple would really much prefer you to only use their apps, or better still, their shop (so they can charge a 30% commission…)
However, type ‘how to download and save a .pdf file on an ipad’ into Google and the first result is this helpful page from Adobe (who created the .pdf format).
No one to ask? With search engines like Google, you get to ask the whole world!
Whenever I have to deal with something new, I Google it. In my job, there really isn’t anyone to ask. I do dozens of different techy things and, infuriatingly, the companies I use are always changing their systems. To make them ‘easier to use’. Bastards.
But it’s not just work stuff. Recently, I was watching Youtube videos (found through Google) on how to fix my leaking cistern – the toilet’s, I mean, not my personal one.
The videos didn’t help at all, but in the end, inspired and encouraged, I solved the problem by emptying all the water out and pouring in some acido muriatico. Boy, was I pleased with myself!
Of course, I’d much rather have had my Italian father-in-law fix it. But he’s gotten old, too, and now spends a lot of time watching TV while playing with his smartphone.
A smart man in his late ‘eighties, he’s not one to back off from a problem, be it plumbing or technological. So how did/does he learn to use his smartphone? (To watch football, to read the news, etc.)
By playing with it, just as he learnt to fix a bike or replace a washer. By pressing all the buttons to see what they do. By asking a passing grandchild for help, when possible. But above all, by playing.
Remember Roomie last year? She was nineteen months old when she came to us. Leave a smartphone anywhere reachable and she’d find it, identify the Youtube app, and be lost in some toddler-friendly video before you could say, “How come Roomie’s gone so quiet?”
On Tuesday last week my dad was angry and frustrated with the unfamiliar swiping motions needed to switch on his new device. I sympathize. I have two smartphones – one Android and one Apple – and switching from one to the other confuses me every time.
The next day he was typing messages in the family Whatsapp group.
The day after that he was playing patience, the old, free one, from the very earliest days of desktop computers.
The day after that Sudoko, more modern and presumably more fun.
I suggested banking apps, but he wasn’t ready, yet…
But Netflix, borrowing ebooks from the local library, who knows what will come next?
Playing requires time, obviously, but when you’re convalescing in an armchair, there’s plenty of that.
Toddlers have time, which is good. Elderly people in failing health might even have too much of it.
Either group is more than capable of learning whatever new (or old) technology task they might need to do, or chose to profit from.
OK, so one group has a lifetime to benefit from the investment of time required, and is in no particular rush to learn. But we oldies can type queries into Google and read the results that come up.
Adults learn much faster. It’s just a question of being bothered to try.
A language-learning parallel: much of foreign language-learning involves failure, which is omnipresent. Basically, you won’t do everything right all of the time. For years you might do nothing much right, ever.
Successful learners don’t necessarily do anything differently from you, or better. They just get used to – they accept – the unfamiliar nature of the tasks. They fail, but they’re not concerned. It’s to be expected, after all.
Learning to communicate in Italian is not like using your (acquired-gradually, over many decades) mother tongue.
And learning basic computer skills is not like the huge challenge of writing your name with a pencil.
You just need to want to.
And to keep at it until you figure it out.
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- Sicurezza informatica: antivirus e firewall (e perché entrambi sono necessari)
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- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
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