November 2018

Technology for the Technically Challenged

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A long-time friend of mine never became accustomed to the world of modern technology; she announced herself as non-technical and refused to have anything to do with computers. She was part of a small group of high school friends who used to get together for lunch or dinner a few times a year and, while the rest of us communicated by email, we would have to contact her by phone.

Then, as we got older, the group began to break up as we moved to be nearer family in our golden years. Of course we still keep in touch by email, but that leaves our non-technical friend out in the cold. We no longer write letters the way we used to and are not interested in playing phone tag. (She’s a pretty busy lady and her voice-mail box is usually full.)

All this made me want to help my friend to acquire and use any sort of (technical!) device that would include her in our circle of electronic companionship. I began to research computers that were designed for the nontechnical (sometimes called “the elderly”). The makers of these machines emphasize how much they value their elderly customers and are ready to support them day or night.

The GrandPad is a tablet, not a computer, but it was, perhaps, my favorite of these devices for the simple reason that you do not have to have a modem or router in your home for it to work. It has something built-in called “4G LTE connectivity” and uses Consumer Cellular service for email and other features that draw on the Internet for information. Besides email, GrandPad provides the user with weather, a dictionary and encyclopedia, music, games, picture phone calls, a camera, and photo storage. What it lacks is a web browser, so you cannot surf the Internet at will. My favorite sites, Facebook and Amazon would be unavailable.

The GrandPad made me think of the Jitterbug phone, a Samsung product which was also devised with seniors in mind. It has a bright screen, large buttons, louder sound, simple menus, and a camera.The maker’s goal was to keep the phone simple to use and free of an overload of technical features. You can talk, text, and take pictures with the basic Jitterbug.

There is now a Jitterbug Smart Phone for those brave enough to take on surfing the Internet with their phone. It retains the easy-to-use features of the basic Jitterbug but adds Internet capability, giving the user ability to email and to search for information online.

And if a regular desktop or laptop computer is desired, several companies make them. Telikin, APlus, MyGate and WOW are some of the brand names. They specialize in marketing easy-to-use computers for seniors. They, too, provide the features described above, simple menus, large print, etc. And they make a point of giving their senior customers support that is readily available. The drawback is that it will need a modem and an Internet service provider to make email available and allow for online activities. A small impediment to the use of a full computer, but an added layer of annoyance for the non-technical user. 

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