From The Arnie Chronicles, the semi-fictional biography of Joshua Bateman Arnold.
For those of you who are relatively new to this blog, I must introduce Arnie — Joshua Bateman Arnold, about whom I haven’t written since last November. He is my neighbor and a retired long haul trucker. He’s also a widower, and Mrs. R. and I have become his de facto family, which is fine. He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he has a big heart. He also has a well-stocked tool shed, which I do not.
When last we saw Arnie — “we” being Mrs. R. and I — he was sitting in our back yard, proclaiming his desire to live forever.
“I’m like that guy Pancho what’s-his-face that chased around Florida hunting for the Garden of Eden.”
”Actually it was Ponce de Leon and I think he was hunting for the Fountain of Eternal Youth,” I said.
“But suppose it turns out to be the Fountain of Eternal Arthritis,” Mrs. R. said. “Would you still want it?”
“I want it. Period.”
He was studying these possibilities on the internet, which was quite a turnaround for him. He had long been totally computer-phobic. There was a time when he viewed them as an evil only slightly less malevolent than the devil himself. “Kids usin’ them pretty soon ain’t gonna be able to add or subtract or nothin’,” he complained. “Nor spell neither. Those so-called ‘word processing’ programs got spell-check thingies built right into them. And by the way,” he said in a manner that sounded like he was about to throw a high hard one right at my head, “how in the name of the Lackawanna and Ohio do ya process a word anyway?”
That was Arnie for years. Then about a year ago his daughter Alex came for a visit from her home overseas in Vienna, which, for years, Arnie insisted was in Australia. We were outside with Arnie when her cab drove up, and after a few hugs and so on, she announced, “I’m going to get you a computer, Dad. That way we can email back and forth every day.”
Arnie was aghast. “You ain’t gonna do no such thing! Nosirree. You bring a computer into my house and I’ll have to get a holy man to come and exercise it right out.”
“Dad, you already have computers in your house.”
“No way,” he said.
“Way!” she insisted. “Your microwave has a computer in it. So does your oven and your fridge. And your DVR not only has a computer in it, it has a hard drive.”
Arnie was stunned. “You’re kiddin’, right?”
“Arnie,” Mrs. R. said, “you better get that holy man over here right away.”
Apparently Alex did a pretty good sales job on her dad, because the next day she and Arnie brought home his new iMac. She spent much of the next two weeks teaching him how to use it. At one point he asked her how he could look up something online.
“Google it,” she said.
“Hey! You watch your language young lady!” he replied quite seriously. But she explained to him, that far from being an obscenity, Google was a search engine, and he’s been happily Googling away ever since. These days Arnie can fairly be called computer literate. He emails his daughter several times a week, occasionally attaching a photo. He keeps his check register on the computer. A few months ago, with much trepidation, he began paying his bills online. Last week he came full circle.
“I don’t know how I ever got along without a computer,” he told the two of us.
Arnie’s experience is not unlike that of many seniors — they learn the technology ropes from someone in a much younger generation. When young people need computer help, they call a help desk or a friend. When old people need help, they call a grandkid. There are approximately 40 million seniors in the U.S., which amounts to about 13% of the population, and about half of them now use computers.
Which brings me to a pet peeve of mine. I am getting more than a bit ticked off at people who write articles about how technologically illiterate seniors are. Maybe it was true at one time — when the very first PCs came out most of us were pretty ignorant of how to operate them. But no more.
According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, there are more seniors in the U.S. using computers than there are teens ages 13 to 17. Experts, the Sun Sentinal reports, say seniors typically search for jobs or gather health information online. But for the most part they engage in the same online activities as people of other ages: checking email, swapping photos, visiting weather sites.
Computing may actually be good for a senior’s mental health. A few years ago, WebMD described a study that showed seniors who use computers reported fewer symptoms of depression. “The reasons for the pattern aren’t clear, and the new study that showed this was relatively small,” said the WebMD article. “But the key might be connecting with other people and learning via computers.”
When seniors finally embrace the technology, as Arnie did, it’s because they’ve reached a tipping point, a high tech friend of mine said. They dabble with it a bit, then they begin to explore, and then suddenly they realize all the vistas that are open to them on the web, and they go hog wild.
“I saw my daughter’s apartment house in Vienna on the web!” Arnie told us one day all full of excitement. “I put the address in Google, and in a second or two, there it was. By the way,” he added, “did you know Vienna is in Austria, not Australia?”