Technology Know-How 101

Seniors using technology

Becoming Technology – Savvy in the 21st Century.

Remember the good-old-days, when the hardest technology related issue you had to figure out was how to record your favorite program on the VCR?

Seniors and boomers now are faced with a plethora of technology tools and devices, all with their own learning curves. And while it may seem like a lot to keep straight, there are some benefits for seniors who regularly use technology.

Let’s take a look at some of the most valuable technology tools and devices on the market today, and explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Tablets and Laptops

Desktop computers have their place, and for the longest time, they were it as far as an electronic computing “device.” Now, laptops and tablets are quickly replacing the desktop computer as top choices for those buying new computers.

According to information from Statistica, tablets are expected to become the top-selling electronic device among the three by the year 2020 .  In 2010 – the first year Statistica tracked sales – 157 million desktop computers were purchased and shipped worldwide. Laptop figures were at 201 million for 2010, with tablets trailing at just 19 million orders. That trend was reversed in 2014, when tablets became the top-selling device among the three, with just over 230 million shipped globally.

One of the reasons the desktop computer is becoming obsolete is that it is bulky and cannot easily travel from place to place.  While desktop computers have their place in the world – particularly for some business and industry professionals – tablets and laptops are more conducive to those who either conduct business outside of the office, or use the devices for personal matters. We encourage seniors who are interested in having a device to consider either a laptop or tablet.

There are many benefits to having a tablet or laptop, including making it easier to be social. While that may seem contradictory, there are ways that tablets and laptops can help seniors connect with friends, family members and others in their age group. The ability to connect with others without leaving your home is especially helpful for seniors who may be dealing with a disability or illness that makes getting out and about difficult.

Apple products, including the iPad tablet, have apps that seniors can use to connect with others. One of those apps is known as FaceTime. The app works by allowing people to engage in video chatting with others who also have the app. You will need to have an Apple ID and know the Apple IDs of those with whom you wish to connect.

A similar thing can be done on android tablets or laptops using programs such as Skype, which allows users to make calls or to video chat with others. Skype is free to install and use, and can make visiting the grandchildren easy, even if they are 2,000 miles away.

In addition to making social interaction easier, laptops and tablets can be used to play certain games, which is a proven way to boost brain activity and help to prevent conditions like memory loss.

One of the biggest disadvantages to tablets and laptops is that for some, they can become a distraction. If you find you are spending all of your time on your tablet or laptop in lieu of making face-to-face connections, then you may need to set some boundaries for yourself.

Tablets range in price from $100 to $1,000, depending on the brand and whether it’s an Apple product or an android product. Laptops have become relatively inexpensive, especially Google Chromebooks, which can be purchased for as little as $250. Most laptop manufacturers, including HP, Dell and Samsung, also have models that are priced under $500 and more than suitable for basic word processing and other tasks commonly performed by seniors.

Electronic Readers

For some people, there is nothing like the feel of a book in their hands. But when it comes to modern technology, e-readers have become all the rage.

There are many kinds of e-readers – Kindles, iPads, Nooks – and each of them works differently. For example, Amazon Kindles only work with books from the Amazon Kindle Store. Nooks work with books from Barnes and Noble and iPads work with books available in the Apple store. Most public libraries also have electronic books that can be downloaded onto a variety of e-readers, making borrowing books for an e-reader easier than ever before.

There are many benefits to e-readers. They are lightweight, easy to carry around, and allow users to store several hundred books at once. Traveling on a plane or train with all your favorite books is now easier than ever. Other advantages are that some e-readers, like Kindles, allow users to go between reading books and digital newspapers or magazines on the same device. E-readers also are great for those with vision issues, as the size and font of the text for any document can easily be changed to alleviate eye strain. Electronic books also tend to be cheaper than their print counterparts, making it more affordable than ever to read and enjoy a variety of books and printed materials.

E-readers also have their disadvantages, chief among them the fact that they will require charging from time to time. Also, they can be difficult to read while outdoors, as sunlight casts a glare on the screen. Some e-readers, like the Kindle Voyage, have a black-and-white-only screen, which helps to prevent glare from the sun.

E-readers range in price from $200 to over $600, depending on size and model.


Along with all the other great technological advances is the fact that we now can be reached anytime and anywhere via mobile phone. The first handheld mobile phone hit the market in 1973, but was nothing like what is on the market today. Big, bulky and heavy, the phone was hardly convenient to carry around in your pocket or purse.

Fast-forward to today, and we have phones that can not only fit in the palm of our hands, but also can do much more than make calls. Smartphones, such as iPhones and Galaxies, can make calls, send texts and even access the Internet, acting as mini-computers.

The advantages of having a Smartphone are numerous for seniors, especially for those who like to travel. If you have an accident or need immediate assistance, having a cell phone can speed up the process. Smartphones can also act as a GPS when you download apps like Google Maps, making it easier to navigate.

A variety of apps are available for both Apple and Android smartphones that make all sorts of things easier – from finding a hotel, to getting an available parking space downtown – there is no limit to the number of ways a smartphone can be helpful. They even can be linked to home assistive devices that call for help or allow seniors to do things like control the temperature in their homes while they are away.

Cell phones and plans for them range in price from one model to another. The popular iPhone currently costs between $700 and $900, and android devices like the Samsung Galaxy are similarly priced. There are cheaper smartphones available, so if budget is a concern, don’t be afraid to go with a model that is lesser known.

Have some tips for electronic devices that are beneficial for seniors and boomers? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann

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