Tech Support: Older Adults Explore

 

Modern gadgets need quite a bit of ongoing "tech support". Getting help — especially virtually — is tricky. Here is what the Longevity Explorers do.

 

The good thing about modern technological innovations — like smart phones, smart homes, computers, video call technology, or telehealth — is that they can improve quality of life in a variety of ways. But tech gadgets are only useful if you keep them working. And today's gadgets often need quite a lot of tech support for that to happen.

In 2020, the Longevity Explorers explored the different approaches to keeping all your gadgets running — especially during the COVID pandemic, when face to face visits are hard or impossible.

Here is what we learned, including specific examples, about how the older adults in our Longevity Explorer community manage the challenges of tech support for their gadgets, smartphones, and computers.

This exploration is a syntheses of multiple explorer discussions. The raw interactions (audio recorded in some cases) are attached (below if on a small screen; on the right if on a big screen).

 

The Pervasive Need for Tech Support

These days, you have to work very hard to have a life that does not include some type of modern tech gadget — even if it's just the TV or telephone! And increasingly, a modern tech gadget comes with a need for "tech support".

 

Modern Tech Gadgets Need Lots of Support

One of the big differences between the tech-based innovations of the 21st Century and previous waves of innovation is the need for frequent, ongoing tech support.

If you think about important earlier innovations, like the washing machine, the dishwasher, TV, or the telephone, they mostly just "worked", or broke down and needed "repair". For example, if you owned a rotary dial telephone, you did not expect to have it regularly beep at you and tell you it needed an update, or suddenly discover that the (wired) connection to the outside world no longer worked. It just worked.

In contrast, today's gadgets — smartphones, connected thermostats, smart homes, voice activated speakers, smart TVs — are constantly telling us it's time to "update them". Or you suddenly discover your WiFi router dropped out and the connection to the outside world no longer works, or the Zoom App that is your lifeline to the outside world during COVID tells you it needs updating to be secure.

We could spend energy bemoaning this situation, and wishing product designers would change their ways.

But in the meantime, if we want to benefit from modern gadgets, we need to adapt. What this means is that to be part of the modern world, each of us needs a way to handle this constant need for tech support to keep all the gadgets working.

 

Who Needs Gadgets, and Tech Support, Anyway?

For a while, many people used to the way things "used to be", decided they could just ignore these modern, needy gadgets, and stick with the old ones that needed less hand holding.

But over the last decade this became harder and harder. For example, even gadgets that used to be simple — like the TV or telephone — became "smart" and needy (needy of tech support). 

And during the COVID pandemic, solutions that were useful but niche — like video calls — became useful and widespread.

Looking ahead, we see more and more tech solutions emerging that can improve life as we grow older. Unfortunately, so far most of them seem to need more tech support not less. So, until that changes, we think most of us need to think about how we incorporate a sustainable tech support solution into our lives.

At the very least, we need to know what to do (or who to call) when:

  • The home WiFi network "stops working";
  • The smart phone or computer has a popup that says "update required";
  • The app you always relied on (eg Microsoft office) no longer "works" unless you convert to a "subscription" version;
  • All your friends start using App xxx, but you don't know how, or even where to get it;
  • You develop some new "challenge" relating to growing older, and your kids give you a new gadget to "help with that".

 

Learning vs Repair vs Support

As the Longevity Explorers dug deeper into this topic, we realized there is an important distinction between "learning", "support", and "repair". This exploration focuses mostly on "support".

 

Learning:

Modern tech devices need some learning (on the part of the user) before they can be useful. You need to know how to "drive" them.

In the old days, there were manuals. And products had simpler interfaces. But today, many people struggle to master the latest gadget unless they get help from someone.

So, there is a need for some type of "classes" to use modern gadgets — especially for older adults who did not grow up with them. And there is an emerging ecosystem of such classes — although there is plenty of room for improvement.

This exploration does not focus on this "learning" aspect. There are quite a lot of efforts at present to address the need for tech learning, though, and we are watching them with interest.

 

Repair:

Sometimes, devices actually "break". Maybe the screen gets cracked, or the battery stops holding a charge.

In these situations, what is needed is either a repair job or a replacement. And these things happen relatively infrequently, and can can be mostly handled by traditional retail outlets, or by sending the product somewhere.

 

Support

Support is what you need when relatively small things happen that you might need help with.

For example, things like updates, downloading new apps, or making the WiFi network work again after it drops out.

And the annoying thing about "support" is that you might need it fairly frequently.

Now, many people "could" learn to do their own support. And some like doing so, or think of it as easy or a necessary evil.

But for many, it is like servicing your car — but more frequent. And for those people, tech support is something that happens regularly and needs to be outsourced.

The rest of this exploration is about this sort of "tech support".

 

 

Tech Support Approaches Our Explorers Prefer

Broadly speaking, the Longevity Explorer community solutions to their tech support challenges fall into three buckets:

  • The DIY ("Do It Yourself") Approach
  • "Rely on Friends / Family" to help; or
  • "Hire a Professional".

The extra twist imposed on us by COVID was that we really needed a "virtual" approach, since taking your gadget to the shop or community center, or getting a house call, was no longer easy or desirable.

And, as we learn how to do tech support virtually, it becomes clear that maybe that approach is easier and more sustainable anyway.

So explorers are thinking that rather than a temporary "fix", virtual tech support should be part of a long term approach to life.

 

DIY vs Helper vs Concierge

Many of our explorers favor the DIY approach.

The DIY advocates had various suggestions for how they found solutions to tech support issues they did not immediately know how to solve. Mostly they boiled down to surfing the Internet, especially YouTube.

If you want to see exactly what they all did, you can read the individual discussions (below if you are on a small screen, to the right if you are on a big screen) — especially "Tech Support: How Do You Do It?". 

But many of the less tech-savvy rely on a third party for their tech support help.

  • A very common approach was the friend or family member who "drops by" periodically to fix stuff. 
  • Others in more normal times have various local helpers, such as senior centers and volunteers in the community, that help them.
  • And some pay people to come and "support" their tech when needed.

For those needing help from a third party, regardless of whether it was paid or free, family member or professional, the big challenge during COVID was how to get this help "virtually".

 

 

Virtual Tech Support

Given the COVID pandemic, most of the focus of our exploration was on tech support that did NOT require face to face interactions. We call this "Virtual Tech Support".

 

Remote Control (Viewing) of Device

It turns out there are various pieces of software that can be installed on computers, tablets, and smartphones that let a remote person take control of your device and then "fix" whatever needs fixing.

Quite a few of our explorers use this approach. Some rely on family members to provide the remote support via these software solutions. Others have a person they pay to do that.

Explorer Frank Engelman has written some detailed "How To" guides for how to use these techniques to manage a computer, tablet or smartphone from afar. The products we have tried thus far are: Team Viewer and SplashTop SOS. To learn more about these products and how to use them see: "Parent's Computer or Phone Not Working".

An important issue is making sure you totally trust whoever it is. Explorers pointed out that there are various scams that involve third parties offering to take remote control of your computer, so watch out for that.

Another virtual support approach that is working pretty well for some explorers is a Zoom call, during which the person who needs help shares the screen of their device, allowing the other person on the call to guide them through whatever problem they are facing.

But what about other gadgets? 

The Longevity Explorer community has a very active ongoing discussion about how best to set up and manage a remote parent's Alexa / Echo Show.

And for people who need a tablet that can be completely managed remotely (including the connectivity via cellular connection), there is an entire product category we reviewed recently (Best Senior Tablet).

 

Tech Support as a "Service"

There are also various "services" that help with tech support for specific devices. For example: 

  • among our explorers, Apple got high marks for helping remotely with tech support via AppleCare and what explorers called "Apple Handicapped" — which we think is accessed via Apple Care (for Apple devices only);
  • some explorers used and liked the HP SmartFriend service (for any devices — not just HP devices);
  • many used the Geek Squad (from Best Buy* [affiliate link]), mostly as a "last resort when all else failed" rather than a regular source of support.

And, there are a number of initiatives to connect high school students with older adults for tech help. But during the pandemic, this option has been closed off for many.

 

Concierge Tech Support as a Service

The thing about the virtual Tech Support approaches above, though, is that they tend to focus on a single device, whereas sometimes what is needed is a "whole house" approach, that allows your tech concierge to worry about the devices, the WiFi, and anything else that might be relevant. 

We think of that as "Concierge Tech Support as a Service"

There are some businesses now that have focused on this need for tech support and are trying to create "tech support as a service" offerings.

We don't have strong opinions how well these are working as yet, although some of our explorers have tried them and made positive comments. If you try them, please come back and report how it went using the comments.

Examples of such "Tech Support as a Service" offerings:

If you have other good examples, please share in the comments.

 

The Tech Support Co-op

During COVID, there have been examples where "communities" of older adults banded together to create different approaches to providing mutual tech support. 

 

 

 

 

 

*Disclosure: If you use the links above when you buy products we write about, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate or other affiliate program participant. This does not affect the price you pay.

Beyond this, we have no financial interest in the products discussed here, and this article is not sponsored or supported in any way by any product vendor. See How we Fund our Work.

 

 

Reader Comments: "Tech Support: Older Adults Explore"

 

from Donna Wentzel (member) at February 19, 2021

Need advise on purchasing an I phone and how to use it.

 

from Go Go Quincy (unverified) at July 13, 2021

Gogoquincy.com provides adults 55+ with highly-vetted, designated tech support for a fraction of the cost.

Discuss, Comment, Ask Questions

 

 

Related Products & Resources in the Tech-enhanced Life Database

Tools for improving the quality of life as we grow older — shared by the Tech-enhanced Life community.

 

Key words: 
tech support, aging

Last Updated: March 11, 2021.