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Three in five older Australians, see themselves as being more tech-savvy than the past. However, with endless devices and applications within the touch of a few buttons, what are the essential skills one should learn to imbed modern technology into our everyday reality?

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 12:27
File size
7 min 38 sec

76-year-old retiree Brian Korner doesn’t see himself as a nerd with three to four hours spent online each day checking emails and doing research. A mentor with Brisbane Seniors Online, Korner has personally trained close to a hundred students in basic computing skills, his advice for others is to get on top of the technology early before it’s too late.

“It is beneficial and it’s becoming more and more I’d say almost essential and therefore anyone who can get involved in it, you don’t have to get deeply involved but at least the basics. I would say the sooner the better. Some of our learners now who come along have left it a bit too late, we do have people with memory problems, with problems with maybe coordination and that makes it rather difficult, so it’s better to get in early.” 

With more than 90% of Korner’s bills now paid online, the convenience of technology has enabled him to manage things without the need to drive and travel around as much as before.

“I might be looking at sharemarket prices briefly during the day a few times. It’s allowed me, in my case, I’ve been able to handle our finances and investments in a way which I wouldn’t have been able to do without access to technology whether it’s researching stocks and share or whether it’s doing share transactions that type of thing. Being able to keep records of what’s going on with our finances. It’s all very very handy.

Brisbane Seniors Online was originally set up over 20 years ago to help people who were leaving the workforce better grasp technology to improve their job prospects. These days, with students more tech-savvy than ever, people are keen to learn technology for more personal reasons.

“Many people are reading online newspapers for example, they’re pursuing hobbies bridge or even golf. Maybe making bookings to go and play golf. Finance is also a major one. People want to do their banking online because it’s so much more convenient, buying stuff online so it’s a great variety of things really. I shouldn’t overlook Skype those types of programs are very very useful in terms of helping people communicate with friends and family who aren’t close by.

While community training sessions are readily accessible for those keen to take up new skills, Brisbane Seniors Online adopts a more personal approach by going into people’s homes and offering trainings using their own devices.

“There are many organisations which do help seniors but generally speaking, they run classes or they run one-on-one training sessions on maybe a library or a community centre’s computer and then when the person goes home, they find that theirs is of course quite different, they have different softwares and looks different and all the rest of it whereas with the way we do it, we find it’s very very successful.”

Perth-based Danuta Antoniak, on the other hand, goes to a weekly internet cafe session run by the Umbrella Multicultural Community Care. For 70-year-old Antoniak, being online in the presence of others has enabled her to widen her social network beyond the digital realm.

“I have the basic knowledge but with help of the staff in internet cafe, I learnt more and I also meet many more new people and I have more new friends and my social life improved. I enjoy doing it. It’s much easier to find things you know like look something online up and also use google maps and these kind of stuff. It’s very helpful with everyday life.”

Umbrella’s Communications and Community Engagement Manager Henrietta Podgorska says the internet cafe was set up seven years ago to help older migrants better connect with their loved ones in their mother tongue. The results have been positive with improved mental wellbeing and more social connection amongst those who use the internet cafe.

“What we saw is that they more open up, that they actually started having more friends so it’s like having a ripple effect on immediate surroundings as well as in their own life. We have people who not even overseas but their family moved to the East Coast and they could not communicate and it was an anxiety for the family as well as for the person because they only had the landline. Now, the person actually can tell them in real time that I am leaving the house now so just a little bit of less stress for the family as well as for the person, and realistically, they are just having so much fun you know sharing recipes looking at funny youtube videos.”

Meanwhile, positive ageing advocate and author Marcus Riley notes that health is also becoming an important factor for older people to adopt technology.

“It can be a really great tool in maintaining relationships or in better enabling you to maintain the sort of lifestyle that you want. So it might be a wearable device that helps you stay connected with a family member or a carer or it might be a device that helps you maintain or monitor your blood pressure or different levels of exercise that you’ve done where you might need to be managing that..”

According to the Seniors and Technology report released last year, the most popular devices for the over fifties are smartphones followed by laptops. Riley recommends larger portable devices for older people who may have poorer eyesight.

“A tablet device is often proving really useful for older people in particular. It’s big enough to see clearly and to play with and to work and yet it’s still mobile so you can take it to the family when you go and visit them or to the library or to a particular place you are going to so you can use it in more places you can take it with you when you are perhaps getting some help from other people also that sort of device have got endless uses and applications.”

Back at Perth’s Umbrella Multicultural Community Care’s internet cafe, attendees right through to their nineties are enjoying their weekly technology get together. Henrietta Podgorska recommends newbies to set up an email account as the most essential starting point to get into other programs. Podgorska takes pride in the relaxed atmosphere at the internet cafe.

“The internet care is designed to be like a social learning model. We don’t like have intermediate or beginner class everyone goes there with different levels of skills and they are helping with each other so again that generates some conversations so it’s a lot of chats going on and they are looking up what their interests are. It’s really really diverse we have one someone come in and just wanted to use gumtree because they wanted to sell their table and they heard that gumtree they can do that.”

And at Brisbane Seniors Online, Brian Korner sees mentors who are living examples that age is just a number as they still actively share their skills in retirement.

“There are people well into their 80s who are still teaching. It’s never too late not only never too late to learn but also never too late to teach as well.”