The hostile divide between technophiles and technophobes is never greater than during the gift-giving season. That’s when the wannabe gadget givers get repeatedly rebuffed by people they love who insist they don’t want:
b) a cellphone
c) a computer
d) “Or any of that stuff!”
Many of them are older adults, particularly those who were already in their senior years when the World Wide Web and electronic mail were entering the mainstream in the 1990s. Others are people who feel like their lives are fine the way they are, and they don’t want them complicated by anything, well, complicated.
To help bridge this great divide, The News has come up with a short list of user-friendly email and software systems, computers and cellphones to gradually introduce technophobes to the benefits of the digital age.
But first, a brief lecture.
Don’t buy or sign up your loved one for any item on the list if you’re not willing to do the necessary setup to make it as easy to use as possible. Be prepared for resistance. Take the time to show the recipient, step-by-step, how everything works, and don’t sound patronizing while you do it.
Let’s be honest. Technophiles see technology as a major life enhancer, even a necessity to good living.
Contrast that with those who have deliberately stepped off the technology treadmill. For them, technology isn’t something that connects people and builds relationships. It may even been viewed as an inhibitor to real personal contact, a privacy killer and an enabler for incredible social rudeness. They aren’t wrong.
The must-have gadgets also can come with a sense of fear and resentment.
“It scares me because there’s so much information out there,” said Amherst senior Joan Factor.
A Pew Research study from earlier this year indicated that, for the first time, a slight majority of people over age 65 use the Internet. However, 47 percent still remain offline. After age 75, only 34 percent use the Internet.
Aside from issues like complexity and cost, some technology comes with barriers for those hampered by vision, hearing and dexterity limitations.
Then there are those like Amherst resident Cynthia Darone, 69. A former teacher with a master’s degree, she has a huge flat-screen TV at home, loves her DVR, and can even hunt down theater showtime information online, but she hates email and rarely uses the cellphone she carries around with her for emergencies.
“The problem with it is, it does a lot of other stuff, too,” Darone said, referring to a time her phone’s contact list “disappeared.” Her housekeeper helped her find it again. “I can’t do the email either. It’s a pain in the neck.”
It’s not that she can’t figure it out, she clarified. She’s just not motivated.
“A lot of this technology is really helping the younger generation, not helping the older generation,” said Peter Radsliff, founder of the Aging Technology Alliance and CEO of Presto Mail Service. “If you think about it, the level of technology change that has been in the lifetime of these people is so significant, and these other people just want to dismiss them as people who just don’t get it. But you know what? They get it. They just don’t want it.”
Of course, tech users have many good reasons for wanting their loved one digitally connected. They want them to be less isolated, more connected to other family members who are more inclined to tap or Swype a keypad than pick up the phone. And they want them to be safe, to have ready access to help in case of trouble.
“That isn’t to say arm-twisting isn’t involved,” said Neil Grabowsky, inventor of the Celery service that turns a fax machine into an email device.
He said about half the people who are given the service initially say they don’t want it – until email “letters” and pictures of the grandkids start magically showing up in their living room.
“Once that happens, you pretty much can’t lift the machine out of their hands,” he said.
With that in mind, here are some News picks of should-have technology that, introduced properly, may bring your technophobe – and you – some peace of mind and mutual enjoyment. Each list also includes products that can be tailored for use for those with vision and hearing impairments.
Non-computer email systems
Marian Schultz, 87, was one of a group of seniors at the Amherst senior center who said she didn’t have a computer or email and didn’t see the need for either.
“What would I use it for?” she asked. “I have a phone.”
The suggestion that children or grandchildren might communicate with them more frequently if they were digitally connected was met with deep skepticism and a general lecture on the need for young people to spend more time talking face-to-face or over the phone than with their thumbs.
For those of you who are bent on changing this point of view, we recommend:
What is it: A glorified printer that allows people without computers to receive email, photos, documents and more without doing a thing.
Device cost: $99.99
Plan cost: $12.50 to $14.99 a month
Pros: This simple, oversized printer requires no learning on the part of the user. It plugs into a regular phone outlet and, like magic, prints out emails and any attached photos or PDF files from loved ones as they arrive. It uses regular paper and HP printer ink. Senders can customize emails with decorative borders and enhancements to make them appear more letterlike. Gift-givers can also sign up the recipient to automatically receive news, comics, crossword puzzles and health tips. “All they know is there’s a beige machine that spits out stuff from their family and friends,” Radsliff said. “They didn’t need to learn anything new.”
Cons: This is a one-way communication service. Also, some attachments, like Microsoft Word documents, must be converted to a PDF in order to be received.
What is it: A service that converts any fax-capable machine into a device that can receive and send emails.
Plan cost: $13.98 to $19.99 a month
Pros: People automatically receive emails and image and PDF attachments through a regular phone line, like Presto. Users also can electronically send handwritten letters, which the Celery Service automatically converts into an image document and emails to whoever is on the user’s contact list. Clear instructions and machine decals make the process straightforward.
Cons: This requires the user to own or purchase – and maintain – a fax or all-in-one fax capable machine and takes several (well-marked) button presses to send a letter.
Simplified computer software
Some people have computers, but have given up on them, or they use them as oversized word processors and to play solitaire. For those who need a simpler computer layout so they can be enticed to use their machines for communication and information, we recommend:
What is it: An extremely simple email interface for seniors or others who might be willing to use email but would find most email browsers too daunting, complicated or distracting to navigate.
Plan cost: $8 a month
Pros: The interface that greets users makes it super easy for anyone to read mail, receive images and send replies. Large type, buttons with visual cues, and a particularly useful address book format for anyone with memory problems. For loved ones who don’t live nearby, PawPaw easily allows and encourages other tech-savvy family members or caregivers to provide remote support.
Cons: Software limited to email use.
What is it: A Windows-based software program that replaces the more complicated computer interface with one that provides a much simpler and easy-to-understand window to access email, photos, games and the Internet.
Plan cost: $149 one-time cost, or $8 a month
Pros: Works with both standard and touch-screen computers. Clear email function lets the user respond to emails by either typing or speaking. Tech-savvy family members can maintain the software program remotely.
Cons: Supports only Windows XP or later, not designed for Macs. High-speed Internet connection is recommended.
What is it: A Windows-based software program similar to PointerWare, but with some different user options.
Plan cost: $9.95 a month
Pros: This program can do much of what PointerWare does, in both standard and touch-screen format, with options for those who want more, easy menu options for news and online shopping.
Cons: Cost. Supports only Windows XP or later, not designed for Macs. No email voice option. High-speed Internet connection is required.
Not everyone is meant to have a computer, but some people appreciate all the nifty things computers can do. What they may need is a simpler and more bug-proof system. You could hand over your iPad and see what happens. Otherwise, we recommend:
Telikin Also branded as “The Wow! Computer” (www.telikin.com)
What is it: An all-in-one touch-screen computer with an easy interface and large-letter keyboard.
Cost: $699 to $999, depending on screen size
Pros: This Linux-based computer comes preloaded with most of the things a novice or senior computer user could want in a clear, easy-to-understand interface that is virus-resistant. Email, video chats, social networking, Web browsing, games and quick update features for weather and news are all easy to find and do. Wi-Fi ready. US-based “VIP” support is available.
Cons: Expensive. Also requires a high-speed Internet connection. VIP support also costs $9.95 after the first month.
There are fewer and fewer cellphone holdouts these days as companies make phones that are cheaper and simpler, and more people are recognizing the phone’s value as a safety device.
Those listed here are for those who still don’t have a cellphone, or who have a phone that is hard to use.
These phones emphasize not only design simplicity, but low, no-contract pricing. These phones generally share similar features like texting, speakerphone, calendar, calculator and hearing-aid compatibility. All are available for purchase online, but we’ve also listed where you are most likely to find them in stores.
Doro PhoneEasy 410
Provider: Consumer Cellular
Retail price: $60
Lowest monthly plan cost: $10 (25 cents per minute)
Where to find in-store: Sears
Pros: Easy-to-hold flip phone; good-sized, high-contrast, backlit keypad and screen with large, easy-to-read display and one-touch emergency call button. No small, unnecessary buttons; very intuitive menu. Also includes an FM radio.
Cons: Phone cost. Also, the Doro 410 is already being replaced online by a chunkier Doro 618, which will add a simple camera, three one-touch call buttons, flashlight and front call display.
Samsung Gusto 2
Retail price: List price $49.99; can be found for under $30
Lowest monthly plan cost: 99 cents per day when phone is used, then 25 cents per minute
Where to find in-store: Most big-box and discount stores, electronics retailers
Pros: Simple design “regular” flip phone with nice, subtly contoured keypad buttons, easy-to-see numbers. Basic, easy-to-use design that also offers a camera, Bluetooth, voice commands and adjustable font sizes.
Cons: May offer more features and menu options than a basic user may want.
Alcatel “The Big Easy”
Retail price: $30
Lowest monthly plan cost: $9.99 (30 free minutes)
Where to buy: Walmart, discount stores
Pros: A bar phone with a big color screen and super-simple keypad with huge, backlit numbers and an easy-to-navigate menu, plus FM radio. Works well for anyone craving at-a-glance simplicity and for people who may have sight or dexterity issues.
Cons: Larger size may be a turnoff for some.
Provider: Great Call
Retail price: List price $119; on sale now for $99; $35 activation charge
Lowest monthly plan cost: $14.99 (50 free minutes)
Where to buy: Sears, Best Buy
Pros: The pioneering phone for seniors still features separated, backlit numbers and its easy yes/no menu system, but now also includes a camera and more traditional design. The phone’s greatest advantage is its support of other GreatCall apps like 24/7 access to a live nurse, the 5Star response system, medication reminders and other simple-access updates like weather, sports or horoscopes.
Cons: Cost. The phone itself is expensive, and many of the apps require an extra monthly charge. A strong alternative for people wanting more of a safety device is Great Call’s stand-alone 5Star Urgent Response one-touch communication device with GPS and 24/7 access to a helpful agent or nurse.
Provider: Virgin Mobile
Retail price: $14.99
Lowest monthly plan cost: $20 (400 free minutes)
Where to buy: Most big and discount stores, electronics retailers
Pros: Probably the cheapest and most basic “regular” flip phone on the market. Straightforward keypad that avoids picture icons, GPS and voice command enabled.
Cons: No Bluetooth. Virgin Mobile coverage can be spotty in areas.