Older Adults Are Learning to Master Smartphones -- or at Least Text

By Moore, Doug | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Older Adults Are Learning to Master Smartphones -- or at Least Text


Moore, Doug, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


CRESTWOOD * Mary Lou Anderson held the smartphone with authority. Two months into her relationship with the device, things are going well.

Friends showed her how to text and email from her Samsung 7. And making or receiving a phone call? No sweat.

But Anderson, 66, of Dogtown, knew the hand-held computer was capable of much more. She signed up for a class on Android use, learning how to shop for apps, access the calendar and attach photos to text messages.

"Friends begged me and begged me, and I resisted and resisted," Anderson said of trading in her flip phone for a device that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults now have. She did not like what smartphones had done to friends and family, unable to carry on a conversation without the distraction of downward glances at a lighted screen.

"I didn't want to be on my phone all the time," Anderson said. "I didn't want to be that person.

"But," Anderson said as she looked at the phone cradled in her hand, "I like it."

Anderson signed up for the "Getting to Know Your Android" class offered by OASIS Institute, a nonprofit based in St. Louis that offers a wide range of courses, recreational activities and tutoring opportunities for adults 65 and over across the country. Classes are also offered for iPhone users.

Technology classes have been central to the offerings of OASIS for 15 years. "Meet the Computer," "Buying and Selling on eBay" and "Exploring the Internet" are current course offerings. But only in the past three years have smartphone classes become staples.

"We introduced tablet and smartphone classes in March 2013, due to requests from our participants. Demand for these classes continues to grow," said Amy VanDeVelde, who runs the national technology training program for OASIS.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 64 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, compared with 35 percent in 2011.

That jump, not surprisingly, is most notable among younger adults, who have grown up with the internet and hand-held devices. In 2015, 85 percent of people ages 18 to 29 owned a smartphone. By comparison, just 27 percent of those 65 and older owned a smartphone. Still, that was a jump from 2014.

Earlier this week, at Crestview Senior Living, Anderson joined five other seniors in a class taught by Marge Williams, a volunteer and peer. Having a teacher in the same age group as the students is important, VanDeVelde said.

Those who have grown up in a world of social media and texting are going to explain smartphone usage differently than someone who remembers when phones were household fixtures, often hung on a wall and connected to a cord, she said.

Williams has been a volunteer with OASIS for nine years, serving in various roles. With a growing interest in technology classes, she shifted her focus to helping other older adults become comfortable with their smartphones. As a retired computer programmer for what was then Laclede Gas, she saw it as a good fit.

"Being a senior myself, I say: 'I've had trouble with this, too,'" said Williams, of Chesterfield. …

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