Grandma’s a techie

by | May 17, 2012

You are never too old to learn new things.


BY: Sunie Levin


What’s this world coming to? I’m an 80-year-old techie now! Me! With nine grandkids. How could this possibly have happened?

Well, truth of the matter is that perhaps I’m not really a techie, but I’m farther along than I’d ever dreamed – so far along that people actually call me for help. Between you and me, most of the time I can’t help them, but amazingly sometimes I can.


My IT connection

So how did all this happen? When my first Dell crashed a year ago, I was precisely where most 80-year-old grandmas are. I knew how to turn the darn thing on, and I could send e-mails, but that was it. Everything changed when my granddaughters, Megan and Amy, convinced me to buy an Apple. They both said it was very user-friendly. I believed them. Now, this isn’t an Apple commercial. My new computer was totally different from my Dell, and I nearly went berserk learning the new language and commands.

Anyhow, when I first went into the Apple store to buy the machine, there were two children sitting on the floor, banging on the computer with great precision. When I asked their mother how old they were, she said four and five. How humiliating. Then and there, I promised myself that if they go do it, I could do it.


A little bit of perseverence

So what did I do? I signed up for six months of one-on-one lessons. When I came home from the first lesson, which I’d immortalised on a tape recorder so as to retain all the information, tears started streaming down my face in sheer frustration. User-friendly indeed!

I persevered. I kept pleading with my instructors to please be patient with this old lady, but even now and then I caught them rolling their eyes. After a few months I actually started getting the hang of it. Hey, look at me! I can do it!

Of course what I could do at that point was pretty basic stuff. These computers are miracle machines, and they can do thousands of times what we usually ask of them. But can you imagine – after six months, I was able to build my own website without any help at all. I’m not saying it was without its moments of sheer aggravation, but the point is, I did it. Little old 80-year-old me.


Next – social media

This was the kickoff. When Megan was in town from college she got me hooked on social networking. I got myself set up on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Well, to be honest, Megan helped me just a wee bit. I discovered social networking isn’t just for teenagers. Nearly 3/4 of the baby boomers are on some network or other. Over 27 million people 55 and over use social networking. You can too.

For housebound seniors it’s particularly wonderful; letting them maintain contact with old friends and creating new ones. It’s a magic carpet for finding old school chums you never thought you’d hear from again. 

Next came Skype. It is a camera built into new computers where you can see and talk to friends and family for free, anywhere in the world. If your old computer doesn’t have a camera, you can buy a portable Skype for around US$40 at many stores. My husband and I use it frequently. We have a granddaughter and her husband living in Japan we can talk to, and see. During the earthquake and tsunami, it was reassuring to keep in touch. We can see our long-distance twin 18-month-old great-grandkids, who by the way, are the cutest you’ll ever see and Skype helps them remember us between visits. One of my friends back in Kansas City, US, watched a wedding of her grandson in New York via Skype because she had just come home from the hospital and couldn’t travel. You don’t know what you are missing.


Not too late

It’s never too late and nobody’s too old. Ruth Hamilton died two months before her 110th birthday. She had been blogging until the very end. What a remarkable woman she was and who was eager to embrace anything new. You can see and hear her on this website. Then there is Gertrude Crowley at age 97 used Facebook to make new friends. You see with her macular degeneration, her eyesight was almost nil. She acquired almost 100 friends online. A maven friend visited her everyday and encouraged her to put stories on her page. He checked and read her e-mails and she dictated her answers. She claims she was never bored.

For seniors who are housebound and cannot easily use the computer because of arthritis, low vision or other difficulties, there are devices such as Talking Desktop software and speech recognition that can be purchased for around US$75. If you say you are bored or have time on your hands now that you are retired, quite frankly it’s your own fault. Buy yourself a computer, learn to use it. There are classes at the local community centre, library, and you don’t even have to pay for them. Become a techie like me!


Sunie Levin is the US author of “Make New Friends … Live Longer”. She founded the Midwest Reading and Dyslexia Clinic in Kansas City, Missouri, US, for children and adults with learning problems. A popular lecturer, Levin, who is 81, taught University classes and has conducted workshops and seminars throughout the country. She has appeared on local and national TV and was a syndicated columnist for many newspapers. Her blog site is at


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