A while ago I was setting up Skype on my in-laws’ computer as they were far away in the NSW Blue Mountains (hence the need for Skype).
First I verbally negotiated the download and installation of the communication software by phone – “enter this, when you see that, click on this …”.
Then I was then able to connect via Skype itself and get them to make the necessary adjustments at their end; turn up the volume, change the camera angle etc etc.
But one problem persisted – I could barely see their faces. I tried every tweak I could think of, but all I could see were two shapes in the gloom, apparently staring at my face on their computer screen.
I was about to give up and tell them I would fix it on my next visit when Mum-in-law chirped: “Would it help if we put the light on?”
It was literally a lightbulb moment.
There are a lot of older people out there, including in strataland, who are being advised to keep in contact with their families – especially their grandchildren – via various form of online communications.
But those generations are divided not just by the years, they are separated by a fundamental difference in familiarity with very advanced technology. And I apologise to any elders for whom apps and gadgets are already well inside their comfort zone.
Trust me, you are in the minority. Most people in their eighties had already retired before the first iPhone appeared on the market in 2007.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when the “oldies” in our communities, the most likely to suffer from enforced isolation, look blank when someone advises them to hook up to hi-tech to stay in touch with their friends and families.
And I think those of us who have some basic facility in this area could help a lot, just by offering to set things up for them.
If you live in an apartment block with its fair share of seniors, and you are tech savvy yourself, maybe you could offer your services to connect the disconnected to the wonderful world of online communication.
You don’t have to be a geek – just someone who knows how to set up some basic software on their computer, laptop, tablet and/or phone, in a way that allows them to just press a button and off they go.
And don’t get too fancy – you only need Skype for basic communication (it may be pre-installed if you have Windows 10, otherwise you can get it HERE), Zoom for online group gatherings, Whatsapp on their phone so the whole family can stay in touch all the time and, if you sense you might be getting a few return calls to “fix” things, software like TeamViewer that allows you to control their computer from yours (but only if they give you a password).
If you sense personal security might be a concern for them, organise it through your strata committee secretary or building manager. Otherwise, just put up a notice on the noticeboard or drop a note in their letterboxes.
And, obviously, while you are in their apartment, take all necessary precautions to avoid leaving any infections.
And if you are worried that you might become their permanent lifeline to the digital world, there are worse things to be known for in these plague-ridden days.
Last weekend I helped the in-laws join a family Good Friday dinner on Zoom. The big difference was, after the last experience, I had installed TeamViewer software that allowed me to control their computer remotely.
No light-bulb moment required.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.