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Toussaint column: COVID is the teacher; technology is the subject

Nicolette Toussaint
Nicolette Toussaint

Experience is the teacher,

But here’s what makes me burn;

She’s always teaching me the things

I do not care to learn.

I don’t know who wrote that doggerel, but it sums up my feelings about technology rather neatly.

I’m not sure whether COVID-19 has been the teacher, or just the mother of necessity. But whether we cared to or not, the experience of social distancing has been teaching us seniors quite a bit about technology.

Oddly enough, many of my Boomer friends consider me a technology wiz. (For the first few weeks, it seemed I should have Zoom Consultant business cards to hand out, even though I was learning only by the seat of my pants.) My friend Niki says she’s overheard her husband fret, “Nicolette could figure this out in about two minutes!” My 1930-model husband refers to me as his “live-in geek.” And last week, as I was telling my friend Robin Waters about teaching drawing classes via Zoom, she proclaimed, “You’re a myth buster!”

What myth, I asked?

The one about seniors and technology. Robin — she of many skills, talents and careers — worked as a gerontology consultant for 10 years in Washington, D.C. One myth she often encountered was that you “couldn’t teach old dogs new tricks.” Seniors are too stubborn, intransigent, inflexible or non-adaptive to learn new technology. (Yes, that idea has a long tail. Britain’s Two Ronnies aired a hilarious “frozen blackberry” sketch in 2002. In 2017, Saturday Night Live riffed on “Alexa Silver,” a fictitious Alexa that’s loud and responds to “Alaina, Allegra, Alfonzo, Excedrin”…any name remotely like Alexa.)

I’m not sure I deserve much tech credit. What I am, mostly, is fearless.

I’m unafraid to ask questions that might sound foolish. I’m indebted to Lacy Dunlavy, our Carbondale Branch Library manager. In a local COVID-19 Facebook group, she offered help in navigating the Garfield County Libraries’ online resources — and she answered a passel of my questions, questions that generally led to still more questions.

In addition to risking embarrassment, I’m also willing to experiment. I’m confident that, nowadays, our computerized devices are pretty well idiot-proofed. It’s not like when I taught myself DOS or jumped into WordPress and could crash. These days, because I know I can’t break it, I wasn’t afraid to try out all the menus on the Roku I ordered from e-Bay: What does this button do? And what does this button do?

If worse comes to worst — if I get a “403 forbidden error” or encounter the white screen of death — there’s always Google. However I may have transgressed, someone else has trespassed there before.

Experience is the teacher, and these days, she has not only written her lessons across the internet, she has also videotaped them. Need to replace a Garmin battery? There’s an instructional video for that. Need to know the difference between a mini USB-A and B? YouTube will show you.

There’s even a YouTube video, created by a grade-school teacher, that demonstrates how to use your cellphone as a document camera during a Zoom class. (It’s charming; she shows you how to stack soup cans to suspend your phone above your student’s paper. No dongle needed!)

Social distancing has pushed plenty of us into Zoom land — where we may or may not have learned how to unmute ourselves or how to keep pet photobombing at bay.

Social distancing has prompted me to measure my internet connection speeds (Just .3 Mbs for upload? It takes 1.2 Mbps just to Skype!) My quest for better connections — during a time when support techs were barred from entering my house — first led to my watching videos about moving and aligning a satellite dish, then later to tracing and labeling all the abandoned coaxial and Cat 5 cables in my basement.

In a subsequent installment, I bought two Kindles and learned how to use the Garfield County Libraries’ Overdrive app. Then I purchased a Roku on e-Bay and “installed” it on the smart TV. (I thought the old TV was smart enough, frankly, but after my adventurous cat climbed, crashed and creamed it, I wound up learning things I didn’t care to learn.)

All in all, my covidian tech adventures haven’t turned out too badly. By pushing all the Roku’s buttons, I found it was fairly easy to get into those Kanopy movies that Lacy, our Carbondale librarian, mentioned online. And wonder of wonders, my 89-year-old husband not only adjusted to reading on his Kindle, he says he actually likes it better than physical books.

See? You can teach old dogs new tricks. You can even get quarantined humans to go out and howl with the pack at 7 p.m. each night.

Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.


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