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Successful Aging: This column got more reader responses than any other in 17 years

Dear readers.

I recently responded to a daughter’s concern that her father, an 88-year old retired dentist, was using a flip-top rather than a smartphone. The daughter wanted to know how to overcome her father’s resistance, believing that with the smartphone text capacity they could communicate more readily since he lives 3,000 miles away. She also wanted her father to have access to more emergency numbers.

To my surprise, the number of responses to this column was probably more than any column I have written in the past 17 years (and over 850 columns).

I am trying to understand why I got the large number of responses. Perhaps it’s because we all have been exposed to some technology and have made a decision to what extent we want or can use it. That gives each of us an opinion, many expressed in this column.

Categorizing use of smartphones by generation might be risky. Readers L. and H. are 88 and 90 years old respectively. They both use smartphones with assistance from their grandchildren. They are “get better at it every day” and feel “we can’t stop learning.”

Here are some highlights from your responses:

C.V.B is 78 years old and got a cellphone when they first came out and were still the size of a WWII Army field telephone. He feels texting is a step backward in communication, that technology is designed to improve our lives, not limit them. His wife has a smartphone that she uses to send pictures to their grandchildren when they are traveling. He adds, “It beats postcards by over a week.”

“I don’t think an 88-year old should be urged to get a smartphone,” writes T.S. In an emergency, it is easier to dial 911 than figure out a smartphone. This reader suggests just calling her father.

And then there is the price concern. R.M writes that “… we seniors are priced out of the game.” She’s had a flip-phone for over 10 years at $7.00 a month and has lived for 80 years without (other) electronics. “So, a few more (years) won’t be a problem.”

Here is a more personal email from S.F., a writer and MacBook user. “I found your advisability of a smartphone for seniors curiously presumptuous.” He noted that I should be aware that “a fundamental part of aging for most is recognizing how little we actually really need…in life.” He continues, “a smartphone, with its prodigious appetite for attention to itself is antithetical to life, at least as I wish to live it conscientiously in the here and now.” He writes that he is living a life with a degree of freedom and satisfaction likely not possible if willingly enslaved to a gadget. “So, count me out.”

B.’s advice to the daughter: “Be thankful your father is still alive and able to talk at his age. Phone him, just to hear the sound of his voice. And use your woopty-do smartphone to record him. One day you’ll be glad you did.”

In defense of flip-top phones, L.P. writes the reason seniors prefer flip-top phones is that it “fits neatly into a pocket without falling out.” With an “active lifestyle, such as walking and gardening, you don’t have to carry it around strapped to our bodies.” Her final advice – make some concessions instead of demanding your father comply with your wishes.

At 82, R.R. has no problem in learning how to use the devices. He just wants his family and friends to talk to him rather than texting. He suggests calling older relatives instead of badgering them with nonsense.

C.S. has been using computers since her engineer husband built their first home computer. However, she writes that she is not of the digital age, has lived a hectic life raising three disabled children and can now decide how she wants to be disturbed. She described that the request of the daughter to change her father is self-centered – trying to force this (smartphone) on her dad for her convenience.

B.P. writes that he hasn’t seen a flip-phone in the past 10 years that could not send and receive text messages or didn’t have the capacity to store numbers. He suggests learning about the features of her father’s existing flip-phone.

Thank you to all of the readers who shared their experiences and opinions. The responses just affirm there is no single voice among the older generation. Our diversity is enriching.

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