Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Abby Stokes takes the mystery out of personal tech


Raise your hand if teaching your mom to use her new smartphone was a delightful and pleasant experience. 

That’s what I thought.  

Maybe you should direct mom to Abby Stokes. She’s made a career out of helping older people embrace and enjoy new technology.

“Look, anyone over 40 is a digital immigrant,” she told me. “We didn’t grow up with computers. We all need a little help.”

And Stokes is happy to fill that role with her books and training workshops at libraries, clubs and senior centers and her website, By her count, she’s helped more than a quarter million people step over the digital divide.

The third edition of her book Is This Thing On? was released this spring. It carries the subtitle: “A Friendly Guide to Everything Digital for Newbies, Technophobes and the Kicking & Screaming.”

And kick and scream they do. Stokes’ mother resisted learning about computers for many years. “She has a super-curious mind. Learning the computer didn’t interest her, but finding information did,” Stokes said. “That’s what I key into with my groups. They don’t need to know anything about the technology, they need to know the steps to get the answers they want.”
Older adults also know that technology can bring them closer to friends and family members. A weekly video session with the grandchildren is a good example. And Stokes said the young people will be more engaged if there’s a family project involved.
“You have to lure them in,” said she. “Send them some questions in advance, instead of just asking how they are doing. Get a photo of their dad when he was 11 or 12 and ask them what he might have been thinking about at that age.” Another session could be an interview with questions about family history that the children could record for a genealogy project.
In addition to computer basics, Stokes devotes large portions of her book and workshops to tablets, smart phones and social media. Learning the basics of photo sharing and the shorthand of text messaging helps older users connect with young people.
Her audience also is intrigued but cautious about social media, what Stokes calls “the green beans of the Internet.” They know it’s could be good for them, but they’re reluctant to try it. “I ask them who thinks this is all a bunch of hooey and all the hands go up,” she said.
Part of their worry, she said, is fear that Facebook in particular will suck them in and dominate their time. “They get the power of it,” she said. “But once they hear that they don’t have to say yes to every invitation on Facebook and that they don’t have to share everything or anything, ever, that opens them up.”
Feel like you’re getting stuck on Facebook? Stokes says get out a kitchen timer and set it for 40 minutes, then go off and do something else. Worried about scams? Use the “front door test.” And, if it sounds like something you wouldn’t let past your front door at home, don’t do it online.
“If you’re not stupid, you’re not going to be stupid online,” said says.


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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.


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