Why are old people so afraid of computers and appear stupid? I should be able to answer that question because I am getting older now and know first hand the fears that well up which simply didn’t happen in my younger years. As I have grown older the reward versus the risk must be noticeably more obvious before I am willing to take any substantial risks. Perhaps, when I reach 100 it will so extreme that the reward must be even greater than 100% and the risk even less than zero before I will take any action whatsoever. I hope time and experience will answer that question for me.

When I was in my 20’s I did most of the usual dangerous stuff that was expected of me and when I was a pilot in the Air Force I succeeded on a check ride with Captain Chard which should have terrified anyone who wasn’t totally insane. I passed where seven pilots before me failed and several more after me failed. Probably they failed because of sheer terror at being in the cockpit with one of Jack the Ripper’s more rambunctious offspring. I did some other things, when young, which I would now consider stupidly risky, such as hitch-hiking west to east across the US several times and north to south over a dozen times. At the time I figured I had covered about 35,000 miles on my thumb. If you can find anyone who has done that many miles I am sure they will tell you of some interesting experiences. The point is that I was willing to take risks as a youth which I wouldn’t even remotely consider now.

Nowadays I see kids taking deadly risks without tangible reward and wonder why they do it. I am still willing to take risks but the potential reward has to more than over balance the potential loss. When I hitch-hiked to New York it was to go to Fieldstone school, which turned out to be life enhancing experience for me in many ways. But, when I see today’s young adults skateboarding the wrong way down a street between oncoming cars, I don’t see the reward. And when I saw a skate boarder going down a steep street lying down flat on his back on his skate board doing 30 mph or more, all I could do was cheer feebly. I have even been able to get some videos of what I consider really stupid behavior but I hesitate to show them publicly and besides there are already plenty of those types of videos available on YouTube.

There is a natural caution which comes with old age and perhaps that is what makes it so difficult for old people to cope with computers. Computers are always seen to be a little dangerous and are always working just over the horizon and doing something out of sight and seemingly out of control and in some ways they are very powerful and therefore dangerous.

Then there is another well known problem for older people which plagues them even in conversation but is devastating on computers, it’s the softening of short term memory for non-linked detail. It’s much harder for older people to learn floating detail than for children. This has been well known for millennia in relationship to learning languages where children can learn new words with a single exposure. It seems like a simple thing to do but old people can’t do it. It seems they already have their short term memory used up doing something else or just plain burned out. Our minds when older seem to work with bigger chunks of experience and a single bit of new experience just doesn’t have any place to lodge itself. For three year olds learning to use a computer is like learning a language in that is has lots of little details that you need to just learn by doing and then use automatically. Like the use of words and grammar it’s just automatic. For old people who didn’t grow up with computers it is like learning a new language and if you are old and getting by just fine with the language you presently use then it seems a waste of time going to the extreme effort of learning a new one and learning it badly.

So, between the fear of taking unnecessary risks and the difficulty of learning and remembering exact particulate data, computers are a world that will never be accessed by people who are now old. If they haven’t gotten comfortable with computers by now they never will. Computers are so easy now that if you can type in a search word into Google you can open up a whole world of new experience but the people I know over the age of 80 just won’t do it. I have shown some of them several times the very few simple steps: flip the ON switch, click a browser icon, type a search word, but even that seems to be too threatening.

There isn’t anything old people want to know that is worth the risk of looking.