They’re Full-Featured Computers, Not Just PhonesSuggesting a smartphone for older adults is sometimes a dicey proposition, but here’s a funny thing: the definition of “older adults” is a squishy one, and it has less to do with age than understanding that new technology gets simpler to use the longer it’s around. True confession time: I’ll never forget the first time I declared I would never get a cellular phone because I would never need one. Because at the time, I was all of 29 years old. It was a chilly autumn day in Chicago. The world had lost Diana, Princess of Wales, just a month earlier and the leaves were turning red. A dozen friends had rented the first Austin Powers movie from Blockbuster. One hip dude showed up at the party showing off his high-tech brand-new Nokia. He started to demonstrate “texting” by madly smashing at the number keys rapidly, in seemingly random order. I laughed, shrugged, and instantly declared “I will never be so important, so busy, or so plugged into the world that I need to be reachable at all times. I already pay for a phone. Why would I need a cell phone? A landline is all I’ll ever need.” Within two years, though? I was the proud owner of a gold Motorola StarTac, inspired by the Star Trek communicator, and I felt just like Uhura every time I flipped it open. This “old dog” still wasn’t about to learn to text (nope; learning the multi-number finger-mash didn’t appeal), but I was surprised at how quickly I got used to being able to grab a device from my bag and make a quick call home to say, “Do we need milk/cream/butter/eggs/coffee?” I carried a lot of other things around with me as well. An address/phone/date book. Maps. A book to read on long commutes. Back at home, there was a bedside alarm clock and a phonebook thick and heavy enough to injure somebody. Then, ten years after the night of The Austin Powers Declaration, along came the next big thing. In 2007, Steve Jobs stood in front of a group of reporters and announced Apple would be creating something new—the iPhone. It would combine every kind of electronic magic into one device—communication, camera, global positioning, email, video, audio, everything. Even texting. “I will never be so busy or so important that I need all those things in once device,” I thought to myself. And then, after seeing early-adopter friends using theirs for a few months, I started saving up for one.
Smartphones versus Traditional Phones: Are Mom and Dad Ready to Upgrade?If you or an older adult in your life is still using a “dumb” cell phone, it likely does everything it’s being asked to do right now. Flip phone technology for older adults makes outgoing calls, takes incoming calls, records voicemail, and makes emergency calls. (GreatCall Jitterbug Flip does all of this with style, big buttons, a powerful speaker, and even a voice dial feature, so it’s got more than the basics covered.) These phones even text, for those inclined to do so in the old-school way. Smartphones also do all of that, of course, but they can do so much more – they shouldn’t even be called “phones.” They’re miniature handheld computers. With wireless technology, Bluetooth peripherals, USB support, and more, these smart devices can become powerful hubs that control an entire home. Integrated with virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo, for example, they can be used to control technology for older adults like smart lighting, smart thermostats, and smart alarms, upgrading safety around the house in addition to communication in a single handheld base. That’s why so many older adults people are upgrading to smartphones these days, including those of us who don’t necessarily leap on the new tech train the minute it rolls into the station.
Talking Smart Upgrades with Mom and DadRecently, my stepdad (76 years young) was looking at upgrading his own Jitterbug Flip. He was hesitant to consider the Jitterbug Smart2 initially…especially when we started to talk about everything it can do. “A smartphone can take pictures,” I said. “Oh.” “It can surf the internet. The next time you’re watching a movie on Netflix and you wonder, ‘Hey, where have I seen that actor before,’ you can just grab your phone and look it up,” I suggested. “Oh.” “You can send and receive your emails from your buddies.” “Oh.” “You can get maps and directions and you can be the navigator while Mom drives on your next trip to the National Parks.” “Oh.” “And it’s super easy to use, I promise.” Silence. I understood. I really did. Because if you hand a typical “smart phone” to most folks, the last thing it looks is…smart. It looks intimidating. What are all those squares? What do they do? What happens if you press one? Why are they jittering? Did I break it? Make it stop! (That’s why the Jitterbug Smart2 has a vastly simplified menu, to make everything so much simpler to use.) I backed up. “Let’s go back to Netflix for a second. Remember when you two still had that horrible VCR?” “Oh, that piece of <redacted>!” “Yes! Remember how awful that was to use? Because it was all buttons! And you had to remember which buttons to press, in what order? Today it’s so much easier because you have the Roku, and you won’t let anybody else touch the remote.” “Oh, absolutely. It’s just bing bing bing and it’s all done!” “Well, phones are kind of the same. When you have buttons, that’s all you have. When engineers get rid of the buttons, they actually make it easier for that phone to be or do anything. It’s just like your computer upstairs. There aren’t any buttons on your computer, right? But you know how to use it. You find what you want, you click on it. It can be a canvas to draw on, a photo album, an alarm clock, a trivia game to keep your mind sharp—it can be anything and everything. Same with a smartphone. It can turn into a full keyboard, even, so you can text easily. You can even use your voice to type.” I’d like to report that my persuasion skills were 100 percent on-point that day, and that we already have a new smartphone owner in the family, but for now, options are still being weighed. That’s fine. Not everybody wants or needs a full-featured phone that can be and do everything. Some people actually appreciate the fact that their computer and their phone remain separate but equal and maintain an intentional wall between the two. That’s a valid choice. But for those who may never have given a thorough evaluation to smartphones, now may be the time to consider all the options.
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