Lifelong Learning

Lifelong LearningIf you remember the 70s, this is for you—it’s worth it!

I often talk to students who are taking the medical transcription course as retraining for a second career. These students are usually in their 40s, 50s, or 60s—there are even a few in their 70s—and inevitably, they express fear of going back to school “at my age.” Sometimes this fear revolves around learning their way around a computer, or it’s been decades since they last attended class, and signing up to take an online program is a little unsettling. Many times these students are simply worried that even though they may have a college degree, they have lost the ability to learn. Before they even ask a question they apologize for being older, as if it’s a bad thing (“I’m sorry, but I’m 52 years old and I need some help…”). The funny thing is, they often assume I’m a twenty-something, born with a laser mouse in my hand and the world by the tail because I’m on the other end of the phone, with (most of) the answers (usually).

As tempting as it is to let that pretty impression remain, I must tell you the truth. I truly understand the feeling that computers are scary. I’m no computer guru. I cannot program anything. Downloads and updates don’t always go smoothly, and sometimes I have to ask my teenager or my smarty-pants SIL to help me figure out how to do something. BUT…I know the programs I use to do my job, I’m a mad fiend with a Google search, I keep in touch with friends on my Facebook page, and I think Pinterest is the most glorious time-sucker ever invented. I really like the world of information and connection and entertainment I’m a part of because I’m friends with my computer! I’m also over 50, with a whole bunch of grandkids, to boot.

I used to be intimidated by the nerd box. I took a typing class in high school, not a keyboarding class, for Pete’s sake; I remember being troubled when I first heard the term “word processor” as a replacement for “typewriter.” Technological advances come at you fast. I’ve always been enthusiastically pro-education, but I found myself feeling left behind in this respect, unsure how to catch up—and frankly, a little miffed that the ways I knew about navigating life and my culture were going out of style. I dug my heels in, more tightly embracing my 1970s processes, because I’m stubborn that way. It was the demands of a job that finally made me learn computer basics and the specifics of certain programs—I had to learn them to keep my job. It was intimidating at first, but after I quit being stubborn I learned quickly, and I’ve never looked back. If you haven’t already, make friends with technology. It’s absolutely worth it, and it’s not too late! Most of what I know about computer use I learned in the last 5 years. And let me stress that I’m just kind of averagely normal, so if I can do it, you can, too!

An important benefit of befriending technology is it will keep you viable in the workplace and in your everyday world. No matter how annoyed you are with the unrelenting onslaught of communication options, no one wants to be considered outdated, ineffectual, or to be disregarded. A surefire way to be branded a geezer is to insist on using really outdated technology like cassette tapes, rotary phones, and checkbooks. This stuff can actually impact you negatively because it’s more difficult to do business with you, for instance. Another geezer characteristic is to resist common technology like cell phones, email, and DVDs. You may have heartfelt reasons for resisting that cell phone or email account, but today’s world assumes you’ll communicate this way, and you will miss a lot of good stuff if you refuse. For instance, if you insist your granddaughter must drop you a note on scented stationary, you won’t hear from her—ever; however, if you use text messaging, you’ll be in contact with her every day. It’s worth it.

Joining the information stream on the internet can be bewildering, but it will keep you sharp. Let’s face it—the main thing that causes a person to be regarded as “old” is confusion or lack of awareness about our culture and current news. Yes, there’s a lot of unnecessary stuff out there, but you can learn to filter it out. Ignore the dumb stuff and save your energy and attention for what’s important. The internet is a wonderland of information and images on any subject imaginable, and it’s just waiting for you. Your computer is the portal to this wonderland, and it’s under your control—you can find what you want to find. Your 13-year-old niece will find Justin Bieber videos and your 6-year-old grandson will play Club Penguin. Maybe those sound silly to you, a waste of time—and maybe they are—but that’s no reason to turn away from the whole internet. With a quick Google search you can learn how to winterize the Winnebago or plant a hanging herb garden or make sourdough starter or crochet or plan and book that cruise to Greece or train for a marathon or install a new toilet or a million other things that might strike your fancy. The point is, it’s there for you to explore and to learn from. Every day you will learn something—you won’t be able to help it. Take advantage of it! It’s worth it.

I occasionally speak to people who are terrified of the internet because it’s full of unsavory content and malicious nastiness, and they miss out on all the good stuff because they’re afraid of the bad stuff. They won’t even do research for their medical transcription program because they’d have to get on the internet to do so. Okay, there are bad things out there, and computer viruses, it’s true; but, I can tell you I’ve never accidentally stumbled on an nasty site—you really do have to choose to click on it to see it, so it’s not that hard to avoid. Now, your computer activity may generate targeted advertisements, so if you get curious and click on naughty stuff, you’ll start to see ads and get emails about it (just like if you buy jewelry supplies online, you’ll start seeing ads and emails from bead companies). This is just the great American marketing machine at work. If you want to avoid this, the solution is simple: don’t click on naughty sites or advertisements or unsolicited emails. As far as computer viruses are concerned, make sure you run good antivirus software and run scans often. You’ll be okay. It’s worth it.

You never lose your ability to learn, and you can’t help but learn what interests you. Your motivation is your biggest determinant, not your age. A desire to know things coupled with unlimited access to information is a privilege you have within you and at your fingertips. So what if it wasn’t there when you were 20—it’s there now! Go get it, and use it as you see fit. You are in control. Don’t let the machines scare you, and don’t let the whippersnappers boss you around! It’s so totally worth it.

So, I’m in my 50s. Maybe I’m getting a little gray, maybe I feel a little crunchy in the mornings, but my brains are fine. I notice more and more people celebrating their 100th birthdays, so it’s possible I might be there someday. That means I’m only halfway through this project. If you’re 60, you could see 40 more years, and if you’re 70, you could have 30 years ahead of you—that’s a long time! Are we going to wind down already and sit in our rocking chairs, waiting for the end? For decades? Not me. I’m finishing this post, then I’m driving home (my iPod works through my car stereo), and I’m going for a jog in the brisk autumn air (my iPod works away from the car stereo, too). I have an assignment due for my university class tonight, so I’m emailing it in as soon as I proof it one more time. There’s a bill due tomorrow, so I’ll pay that with a couple of mouse clicks through my bank’s secure online portal. Then I’m trying a new chicken dish with a recipe I found on, and later, before I fall asleep, I’m checking my email and Facebook page because a couple of friends and I are planning a get-together and this is the best way to keep in touch. Oops, just got a text message to pick up my grandson on the way home (he’s going to spend the night—yay! I promised to help him look up information on the Titanic for a homework project). Gotta go!

Never stop participating and learning. It’s worth it.

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