BoomerTECH Adventures: Paying Tech Fines?

By “technology penalties” I don’t mean when your computer shuts down, your internet connection drops, or a three-paragraph email “disappears” before you can send it.

A few years ago, Professor Royal Van Horne wrote about what he called the technological penalty: what happens when you do something using technology that you could do easier, faster, or more efficiently without using digital technology . With the tremendous changes in technology over the last few years, the benefits of using technology have increased. But also some of the punishments.

Do not get me wrong; I appreciate technology and use it every day. But there are times when using it is definitely not in my favor — when it takes longer, when the problem isn’t solved, and when an old-fashioned method just works better.

Here are a few of my technology punishments:

1. Nothing like a paper calendar. Okay, I admit it. I may be hopelessly out of date, but I still appreciate my personal planner, which allows me to keep my own physical calendar in my hand rather than on my devices or in the cloud. I have a full-sized calendar that shows a month at a glance, just how my brain works. Each day has plenty of space for appointments, reminders and deletions. And sometimes I need to look back at a previous year and that seems to be much easier to do with the paper calendar, at least for me. Although my calendar is too big to fit in my pocket, it fits nicely in my backpack. To be honest, I’m on a few cloud calendars that I check regularly, but with the exception of Zoom calls, I rarely enter information into my online calendar. I don’t need to pull out my phone to check my calendar on a screen that barely lets me see a day, let alone a month’s worth of activities. I know there are millions of people who use their devices for online calendars, but to me it’s a technical penalty that I don’t care about. Best of all, I get a free paper calendar as a gift from my financial planner every year. Net Cost: Zero.

2. Call, don’t fill out forms online. Ugh…this one is really driving me crazy. What about using online links for ordering information or to resolve customer service issues? Just last night, my wife and I were trying to cancel a popular online streaming service that, like millions of others, we used as a trial period and then let it roll over to an annual fee. How much did we use this account last year? Nothing. Hope. Not a single thing. And it cost us $139 for the year. So why pay for another year when we haven’t used this service? Well, we thought, canceling online should be easy; however, it is a very popular service. It’s not that easy. All in all, Connie and I spent at least 60 minutes logging in and being told we weren’t members (which we clearly were). So we couldn’t follow the cancellation instructions. All efforts to circumvent this problem resulted in a cycle that got us nowhere. It took another 10 minutes to figure out how to contact customers and I finally called someone to clear it up. The customer service rep was nice and helpful and we were done.

Another example closer to home: LL Bean is well known for its great customer relations. Why even waste my time ordering a new shirt or pair of khakis online when I can call and talk to someone who can take care of my transaction in a fraction of the time? If a size or color is not available, the real person I speak to solves my problem promptly and satisfactorily. Calling and ordering something from LL Bean has always been a pleasant experience. Fast, efficient and friendly! Who doesn’t want that kind of human contact? When I make any business call, I usually whisper to myself, “I just want to talk to a real person.”

3. Another significant technology penalty in my opinion is unfocused and random searches that lead nowhere. Here’s an example: I just googled “How much snow has fallen in Maine this year?” and it got 35,100,000 responses in 0.59 seconds. Of course, most of these answers don’t answer my question. Most have something to do with snow – historical records, many newspaper stories about blizzards, ski reports and millions of other stories about road salt, cold weather cooking blogs, and any topic you can imagine related to…snow. Page 1 of my search results has several potential answers to my question, but even up to page 2 of the answers there are articles and information from four years ago. These answers do not answer my search question.

To be useful, a general query on Google (or any other search engine) needs to be more focused than just throwing out keywords and hoping for the best. Otherwise, your technical penalty is wasting your time, not knowing how to find what you need, and wondering about the reliability of the information you find.

We’ll talk more about “power search” in an upcoming column, but for now, here’s one thing you can do to narrow the focus of your Google search: I almost always set the time settings under Search Tools to a reasonable time frame. Unless I’m doing historical research, I usually want the most recent information for my search, so I usually set “last year”. This eliminates anything older than a year and narrows down my search in a way that is helpful.

4. Does it say somewhere that I MUST respond immediately? The expectation of many (most?) people is that if they write to you, you should respond very soon, if not immediately. I do not subscribe to this expectation. I don’t live on my iPhone, and I never set notifications so that my devices never ring, buzz, vibrate, or call my name when I get a call, text, or email.

In short, I want to control every incoming communication and not be controlled by it. I thought it was a generation thing, but I’m not sure about that anymore. Boomers and seniors can be just as demanding of instant communication as younger people.

It’s interesting how we learn the communication style and expectations of friends, family and business connections. Some will respond sooner rather than later, and others will only respond by text and rarely respond to a phone call. Older technology users often rely on email instead of texting and calling. Some will text before calling.

The best course of action may be to let the people you interact with regularly know what your communication style is so they know how best to get in touch with you. Will you respond to texts immediately? For an important matter, would you prefer to receive a phone call? When do you use email?

What are your technology penalties and how can you work around them?

BoomerTECH Adventures ( provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures rely on their skills as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, technical advice and timely blog posts.

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