Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Many people are not comfortable with technology. Judging their lack of knowledge and experience through stereotypes is not a good idea!

Why are a lot of older females not as good as males in operating computers and other gadgets unless they are really young? This happens over and over again. A 41-year-old female did not know how to adjust the volume on a PC computer after using the thing for well over a decade. I'm almost sure the need to change the volume came up before. The same reaction with other things such as remote controls. Two females, one in her twenties and the other in her thirties, both set up their iPod Wi-Fi with no assistance whatsoever. If she clicks on the speaker, the slider shows up with the labels in her language but she still is stumped - the 41 year old.

In this excerpt from Answercast #74, I look at an over-generalization about the type of people who can understand and use technology.

Not comfortable with technology

Well, I took this question with a little bit of trepidation, because to be honest, I think you're going to piss a lot of people off with what I can only characterize as an unfair generalization.

My experience... the reason I wanted to respond to this, is that my experience does not match yours. Computer savviness, or computer ignorance (where ignorance isn't really meant as a pejorative term, it's really meant as a statement of fact that ignorance is nothing more than a lack of knowledge - ok?), lack of knowledge in my experience, transcends both genders and all age groups.

There are people I hear from regularly that would fall into both sides of the camps you describe. People who are very comfortable with technology and will dive right into it - from their twenties through their eighties. And people who are having trouble with technology; who are having difficulty understanding - from their eighties through their twenties. It's not age-specific. It's not gender specific.

You're going to get in trouble!

If anything, I don't really have a good characterization. I do think that there are some generalities that can be made. I think that, in many cases, more young people tend to use mobile technology. People of my age tend to be more desktop PC oriented - but that's a really, rough, rough generalization.

There are so many... there are tons, tons and tons of exceptions to that kind of thinking. So I would strongly advise you to step away from that thinking.

It's going to get you into trouble, to be honest. Not so much because of the people that you might be pissing off - but rather, by assuming that someone is, in your words, "an older female" they don't understand technology as quickly,

You're going to run into females, who match your criteria, who are going to knock your socks off and put you to shame! Basically, they're going to put you in your place.

So, my recommendation is to step away from that generalization. Step away from the stereotypes. Evaluate individuals as individuals. My experience absolutely does not match yours and I would strongly recommend that you keep an open mind to exactly the kinds of things that are going on in computing today.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6082 - November 29, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

david b
November 29, 2012 9:19 AM

My wife is in her 50's and often has to educate people in their 20's how to do more than just surf the web. She's an HR manager, not a PC specialist.

My mom is in her 70's and was always better with the computer than my dad - and he was an aerospace engineer who designed digital hardware. He just didn't have the passion (patience?) to deal with consumer PC operation systems. Mom still uses her PC to send emails, visit facebook, create greeting cards - all from her assisted living facility.

And don't let me get started with the things my daughter is doing with her PC...

All types out there using computers...

Nancy B
November 29, 2012 11:42 AM

You hit the nail right on the head, Leo! It's not the age or the gender of the person using the technology. It's how thier mind works. Some are fascinated by it and some are frightened of it. Many are in between...
BTW, I'm a 73 year old female who is self taught on Photoshop and run a small photo editing business to keep myself busy in my retirement. I just loved it when I got my first computer in the late '90's. (I'm self taught on that too.) It made working with my photos so much easier. I always hated working with the chemicals.

Marilyn S
November 30, 2012 10:06 AM

I am in my mid 70's and a self taught PC user since my first PC purchase in 1999. One has to NOT be afraid of the machine. Explore, but carefully. I go most everywhere in my computer, except the registry. Unless I know exactly what to do in there, I stay out. Although I still have many questions, I know where to find answers and am not fearful of "going hunting." Age is not what keeps people from learning more on their machine. Fear of the unknown and even distrust, apply.

Bob D
November 30, 2012 10:48 AM

When young, older people learned then-current technology. I know how to use a telephone that connects to an operator, rather than to a pulse-dial dial system. I know enough to wait a few seconds while the "tube" radio warms up. I know how important a coin can be if you need to make a phone call while away from home.

Fat lot of good all that fancy knowledge is today, but you never know...

I also know how tablets work.
I know why you can fit 10 Tb on a disk small enough to lose on your cluttered desk. And I remember when a 10 Gb disk was a marvel. And I know the difference between Gb and GB.
I know how text messaging works, though I haven't found a reason to use it.
When I can afford one, I plan to buy a Microsoft Surface Pro -- not one of those iPad or RT toys. I think the Surface Pro can run Emacs; if it can't, I won't buy it: some "old" technology is superior to the toy-store apps today's children think are just sooooo wonderful. (If you don't know what Emacs is, you are a child and a dilettante. So there.)

I like smart phones, but they are too expensive, so I haven't bought one. Can anyone persuade me they are not merely technosugar? Although...some of those apps sure are cute.

Regards, Bob (aged 70)

November 30, 2012 2:12 PM

Thanks for standing up for us old ladies, Leo. You're absolutely right--trying to categorize by age and/or gender is--uh, not smart. I'm a 60+ woman who manages a home network of 4 computers--both wired and wireless. I remember saying, when we bought our first computer (Apple II), I'm really going to be a fan as soon as we can do something with these things--at the time it required writing your own code and I wasn't interested in programming.

November 30, 2012 3:18 PM

This is hilarious. I admit it's an almost insurmountable challenge to bypass our genetic cook-and-wipe-noses hardwiring. Somehow we've made the jump. And if 41 is considered 'an older female' I should be dead by now...

Johnn Smith
December 1, 2012 1:24 PM

I have to say that there's some truth in it. Not because the ladies are dumb, but often because they're smart.

My wife learned many years ago that throwing her hands in the air and looking baffled was a very good way to get some poor idiot guy to do stuff for her. She's quite capable of figuring things out for herself, but why bother when there's a whole planet full of willing slaves? :)

December 1, 2012 4:08 PM

Very brave Leo. Thanx for including this one.
I've been teaching seniors at a center, for about a year and a half, to use PCs. Some are scared about trying something new, and this involved, at their age. Gender doesn't make any difference. Some are more willing than scared, and they learn fairly easily. Actually, now I wonder if even age has much to do with it. In high school, in the mid-'70s, I tutored in math and English, and the few who were there from wanting to learn did better than those who were just trying not to flunk a class. Again, gender meant nothing, as long as I could keep my mind on what I was doing. ;)

Karen S.
December 2, 2012 12:34 PM

As a 56-year old woman who has taught men, women and children "how-to" about many subjects, I have found that the primary factor in learning is the desire. The second important factor is having a teacher that will teach you in the manner that you learn best!

December 2, 2012 12:57 PM

IMHO, it's experience. My 70 something father-in-law is much more computer savvy than I am. He's a retired farmer. He was always tinkering with stuff and fixing stuff, so figuring out computers and how they worked was natural. And now that he has a lot more free time on his hands, he stays abreast of current technology.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, can operate the computer bust only enough to get her stuff done. I believe it's because that wasn't her role in life when she was younger, so she doesn't have the interest the way my father-in-law does.

Jim B
December 2, 2012 2:30 PM

Brilliant! Thank you Leo! I'm 76, male. and I bought my first computer before 1970, then my first PC as soon as IBM released it in the 80's. In my experience it's inaccurate to suggest that women, of whatever age, are intrinsically any less able than men to be comfortable with technology. And it's sexist too. Jim

Julian Adams
December 2, 2012 9:19 PM

I agree with Mr. Smith that maybe some shy away from technology simply because they’re smart. There I was (70 year old male), credit card in hand, downloading Windows 8 on the first day. Just had to have the latest, greatest. A little miffed at first at not having the familiar Start button, I discovered and then downloaded one of those Start button programs and before long was happy as a lark with something new to learn. I agree with another writer that often it’s simply a desire to learn that’s the motivating factor. Oh, I have a cell phone (one that you add minutes to every so often) but I hardly ever turn it on. But if I were 25 and chasing after you-know-what, I’d probably have a phone to my ear half the time, too. Sometimes the technology is only serving ulterior motives--if you know what I mean. ;)

December 20, 2012 7:53 PM

I was the one who wrote the original question. The female seems to have no problem with Windows 8 after a month and doesn't even use that start menu button replacement, all is well. It never dawned on me, the stuff she did not know was never taught to her. She uses Internet and email and a few other things, if you do not use a feature, you cannot know how to use that feature.

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