Tech-simple is worth a try

I've heard of a new app for smartphones called PAY. With it, you can waft your cellphone over a store's scanner and your money flies from your bank through cyberspace into the pocket of the vendor.

Shoppers no longer must wait in line behind a senior who struggles in their wallet for a card, takes three attempts to pass it through that charge thing, then waits to sign the receipt. ZIP. Next, please?

Things are speeding up.

These days they even make mini iPads for babies who are tech-savvy by time they take their first steps. I have no doubt they are able to purchase their own disposable diapers before being potty trained.

At the other end of life, however, technological advance is a problem. "Can you come over and help me set up wireless," is a frequent ask. One usually has to explain how wireless works. I always answer: "Oh, you just don't have to use a plug."

Do not attempt to instruct your friend or you will be in over your head. Friends often replace 20-year-old computers and become agitated when it doesn't work like the old one did. Try jumping from Word 97 to Word 2010! You have to learn an entire menu of commands, and it isn't clear to the newly arrived what or where that is, as they are used to ordering food from one of those.

Or a friend will buy an iPhone and with her shaky, arthritic fingers hit three tiny buttons at once. Or she'll purchase a laser printer, plug it in, and be surprised when nothing happens, not having understood the concept of downloading the driver.

Sharing tech know-how has become a new form of social engagement we participate in due to concern about over-spending our fixed incomes. We gather round the hardware in question, peer at the instructions through our graduated lenses and scratch our gray heads. "Well, on mine I did this, but yours doesn't seem to respond in the same way," one will proclaim while punching several options. This ordinarily jams up the works and guarantees a more advanced problem.

The first helper then gives up and the second tries a different theory, punching more keys. We repeat this with at least three friends before calling our grandkids several states away and asking them to talk us through it on the phone.

This is not a happy option, but it's still better than touching the HELP button and getting someone who speaks broken English. Besides, he'll rip us off with a three-year plan.

So we live in dread of the next tech mishap. Some even give up on the hardware.

I have a friend whose husband died last year. Her son thought he would help by replacing his Dad's old computer before he left for his home thousands of miles away. She lost all her financial data and couldn't figure out how to set it up on the new computer. This techno-hassle is not a problem one wants to pile atop the death of one's life partner, although it is severe enough to temporarily wipe out grief and replace it with rage.

Her techno-nightmare was compounded when she inadvertently tripped over the numerous wires that spewed out the back of her television. In frustration, she called her cable company and had them remove the premium channels, the DVR, the VCR and the rest of the alphabet soup. Then she bought a set of rabbit ears and went back to the 1950s. She watches the three network channels free and saves $100 per month.

But after a year of watching 10 minutes of ads for every five minutes of programming, she learned she could get Netflix, as she still had an Internet/wireless setup, so she called an engineer friend who had spent his work life writing computer code.

You'd think he could fix it in a snap. Think again. It took four hours and strained their friendship. Still, it's a step backward: the right direction for seniors.

We know that Inner Peace means tech-simple.

Dorothy Vogel is the author of a new mystery that takes place in Southern Oregon, "The Timber Mill Action," available on Send articles to

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