Technology makes me feel like I don’t really belong in this world | Aging


The question As a retired woman living alone, I felt isolated during the various confinements. The answer seemed to be to rely on technology, which was fine when it worked, but it often made me feel more cut off from the world. For example, when I didn’t know how to unmute on a video call, it felt like I had lockdown syndrome. Coming out of the pandemic, things are better, except Covid has made tech the way to go and I can’t always get it to work for me.

I went to a pub where I had to forgo lunch because I couldn’t order on the app. I know people who have gone abroad for vacation, but I was too scared to go because of the passenger locator form, which you had to fill in online while he was abroad (how?). I have a cell phone that I often struggle with – for months I couldn’t answer a call, so I had to wait for people to ring, then I had to call them back.

If I buy a new device, it doesn’t even come with a manual to show me how it works. I move further away from people who use their phones and watches (watches?!) for everything. I don’t feel like I belong in this world. And it is unlikely to improve.

Philippa’s response I also find it painful to have to rely more and more on technology. I can’t even run my own central heating system and you can’t pay council tax without having to remember a password. When the internet first arrived, I was pretty good, but nothing ever stands still; the word “upgrade” makes me shiver. I’m sick of watching YouTube videos trying to update myself. The youngest seem to play the violin and get into it intuitively: they grew up with it. We do not have.

OK, declaim. What can we do about it?

We can remind ourselves that learning something new is good for our older brains. And you have to give yourself a pat on the back for sending me your email. You are doing wonderfully. You learned how to do it. You can find out more. I know it’s very boring and as soon as you master a video conferencing app they upgrade it, or your group starts using a different program and then you have to learn it again. You can do it, however. I can do it too. We must.

Go to the computer store. Shout, “SHOP!” (My dad – RIP – used to do that at Woolworths: he couldn’t stand self-service) until an assistant came to see you. Explain that you are from another planet, from another generation and that you need appropriate help. It will be hard for them to understand because they are fish and technology is water, but keep at it.

The brand named after a fruit actually holds classes in its store. They call them shops and not shops, I think, because they came from this new country, America. Don’t move until you get the help you need. Don’t stop bursting into tears. Let them have it. The great thing about being old is that we can say exactly how we feel and want and usually get by. I find I have to ask for help more than once because I need to be told many times and practice it before it comes in.

But there is something else happening here. There is a part of you (and of me, and of all of us) destined to remain alone, invisible. This part is usually background – we don’t usually dwell on how we really know our own experience of existing. But I think that’s why we need art and fiction and movies, because the people who make them really try and sometimes find something that gives an elusive feeling to the language or the images.

I heard somewhere (don’t ask me to find the reference, I lost it) that there is a tribe that when a child is born gives him the name by which everyone will call him, as well as a secret name only known to the child given by the elder of the tribe (who, as they are an elder, will soon die, so only the child will know). This secret name represents your special uniqueness and the part of you that only you know. Anyway and whoever this tribe is, they get it. Because of this feeling that it is not possible for our inner world to be truly known and seen by others, when asked most people feel that they often believe themselves not to be at the center of a group, but more towards the edges. And I imagine that if we don’t intuitively understand the new technology that we’re increasingly relying on during the pandemic, it can exacerbate that feeling.

If we manage to access this article online, I hope people will tell us how to go abroad and come back in the comments (that’s beyond me too, I can’t wait to read them).

Although you may feel left behind and destined for loneliness, you are not alone, there is an invisible and unknown part of all of us. We could give it a secret name if we wanted. You belong in this world, but sometimes part of you can feel like you don’t.

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