September 3, 2012

Your Retirement and Technology

Recently the well-respected Pew Research Center released a study that proves once again how involved with newer technology those of retirement age are. Consider these up-to-date findings:
  • 53% of Americans 65 and older use the Internet or email. This is the first time more than half of this age group are on line. Of those on line, 70% are there every day.
  • 69%  of seniors own a cell phone. That is up over 10% in 2 years.
  • 34% use social networking sites on a regular basis. Facebook and Linkedin are the most popular.
  • 86% use email as their primary on line communication tool. Of course. anyone with children or grandkids know that texting is their preferred way to "reach out and touch." In fact, many in the under 30 age group report very little use anymore of emails. But retired folks remain big fans. 

So, with these research results in hand, what does that say to those of us working on our satisfying retirement? It tells me it might be a good time to review some of the benefits of the more common technology tools we have at our disposal. A case in point: one of my blogging friends upgraded to a smartphone within the last month or so after seeing how handy mine is. He had resisted giving up his basic flip phone until he understood some of the real benefits a more full-featured phone offered him.

I will state up front: don't get the latest gadget because others have. Don't leave your technological comfort zone until you see a personal benefit to you. And, truthfully, your life will continue along just fine without anything I am about to list. But, if you see a way to make things easier or better for you, then give it some thought.

Smart Phones. This is the generic term for cell phones that include features like texting, Internet browsing, e-mail sending and receiving, and taking high quality photos. You can listen to online music or do many of the things you can do on a home computer, like checking the latest news or weather, listening to audio books or reading printed books, even checking your bank account balance or paying bills.

The learning curve isn't as steep as it may seem. Like anything else, you tackle the basics to make and receive calls, using the calendar or alarm clock, or maybe how to read emails. Later, using your phone to send vacation photos to your grandkids, or posting on your Facebook page will be something you decide to conquer. Don't shy away from a smartphone because of all its capabilities. Consider buying one when you think there are parts of it that will make your life easier and more enjoyable.

Tablets. This includes devices like the iPad, Nook reader, or Kindle. Primarily used to read books, newer tablets have become mini computers. My Kindle Fire allows me to not only download and read books, but connect to the Internet to check e-mails, keep up on the news, watch movies on Netflix, and respond to comments left on this blog.

As a heavy reader, I find I still prefer "real" books. But there are times, like our RV trip or vacations, when having my reading material on one light weight tablet is much more convenient than lugging around stacks of books. There have been times I have been in a hotel room and watched movies streamed right to the tablet from Netflix. The quality is HD, though the sound is a little too low without earbuds.

Streaming video through a Blu-Ray player or TV. Personally, I don't see enough quality difference between most movies in Blu-Ray or regular DVD format to justify changing machines. But, newer Blu-Ray machines offer a key benefit: the ability to stream programs and music to the TV or sound system. Since we eliminated all but the very basic cable channels, Netflix has become the mainstay entertainment outlet in our home. A Blu-Ray machine will play regular DVDs as well as Blu-Ray versions. It also allows me to easily stream Pandora music through the TV and stereo system.

At least in my house, the WiFi receiver in two different Blu-Ray players was rather poor. Netflix kept dropping out or rebuffering. I finally put in a booster type hookup that wires into the back of the machine and have had no serious problems since.

TV show episodes on-line.  Rarely do we watch regular TV shows, especially when they actually air. Plus, with very basic cable we do not receive channels like Discovery, History, HGTV, or FX. For shows we have some interest in seeing virtually all are now available online. By hooking up my laptop to the TV we can watch the shows we missed whenever we want, with very few commercial interruptions.

A laptop in place of a desktop computer. Within the last few years there has been a very definite move away from large desktop computers with the tower unit holding all the components and a separate monitor. These large computers take up space and use more electricity. If you have ever looked inside a computer tower you realize at least half of it is wasted space.

With laptops coming way down in price, increasing in speed, hard drive size, and generous screen sizes, the days of the large desktop computer are numbered. Actually, the number of laptops sold has surpassed desktops for almost 9 years. By 2010, the number of each owned by Americans was split almost 50-50. Now, two years later laptop ownership almost certainly has bypassed the bulky desktop.

If you own a desktop computer that works well for you then there is no reason to change. But, if you are in the market, you might decide a lightweight and very portable laptop is your best choice. Realize change comes quickly in the computer world, though. Some folks are already predicting that tablet computers, like the iPad are starting to replace laptops as the device of choice. 
With cloud computing, hard drive storage space is no longer critical. 

By no stretch of the imagination am I a "techie."  I was very slow to move from typewriters to computers, a flip phone to a smart phone and using streaming video. I learned from others, decided what made sense for my needs, and took baby steps. It has worked well for me, but technology can still rear back and bite you. Example? My main computer crashed last week taking all data with it. 

Thank goodness for Carbonite and two external hard drives!


  1. I enjoy technology, and definitely intend to stay current with what's going on out in cyberspace, but I draw the line on either paying to chase it, or allowing it to take over my life.

    I've used the iPad and wasn't so impressed I felt I needed to run out and buy one. I do a lot of typing on my laptop, and so far the iPad doesn't allow for much efficiency on that end. No question it would be easier to lug around on our trips than a laptop is, and I hear they are working on this issue, so at the point we need to replace one of our two laptops, I imagine getting an iPad instead will turn out to make sense.

    I have no issues with texting, but adding this service to our current contract with Verizon would run $9.99 per phone, or $240 a year for both. For now we'll pass, waiting for the point at which the monthly service on a Smartphone drops closer to our Basicphone service costs. At that point, we'll switch.

    I can't imagine anyone not having internet access though - without it one really does get shut out of much of today's society, particularly with regard to one's children and grandchildren.

    1. I have to text to communicate effectively with my daughters. Both prefer the quickness and conciseness. I thought it was goofy to not just have become a convert in the right circumstances.

      My main computer (10 years old) died about 10 days ago. I will replace it after our RV trip with an all-in-one unit (a desktop without the large tower). I find the larger screen and full size keyboard easier for longterm use than the laptop. But, the laptop has become essential for morning blogging (like right now) and trips. It will be one of the first things packed into the RV and one of the first things unpacked at the camp site.

      I'm not using the Kindle Fire enough to justify the $199, but it has its moments.

      Have a great Labor Day, Tamara!

    2. You too Bob! We're leaving tomorrow in our RV for six days in San Diego, and we'll be thinking of you and Betty. Can't wait to read how the RV'ing works out for you two on your blog.

  2. Hi Bob.
    One technology thing you skipped are DVR or digital video recorders. The most recognizable is TIVO. We have been using them for about eight years now so we seldom watch live TV anymore. When the commercials come up it is easy to reduce them to about two seconds in length with a couple of button pushes.

    Being a confirmed "techie" I have most of the things you mentioned. I am like Tamara in that I don't see tablets replacing computers any time soon. Typing on a screen keyboard just can't be done as efficiently as the old qwerty keypads. But tablets have their uses. Whenever we are on road trips it tells me exactly where we are, what is to eat in the immediate area, and allows me to make room reservations in the car so we don't have to motel hop until we find one with an available room.

    Of course texting for me is the only way to go but I am also a prolific email user. About a year ago I gave up my quad-core, dual HD mammoth tower PC for a Mac Book Air and I have never looked back since. My Macbook is connected to an external keyboard and a high resolution 27 inch monitor when it is on my desk but it also travels with me on the road. I was a Mac guy years ago but was forced away from it my a corporate edict. I had forgotten just how much more natural Macs are compared to Windows machines.


    1. My youngest daughter, who travels internationally for her job wants an ultralight laptop quite badly, because of the weight issue. But, she is uncomfortable in having her documents, software and important papers stored on distant servers. Of course, she could use a thumb drive or external HD, but that adds back some of the weight and hassle and slows everything down.

      I had forgotten to mention TIVO. We watch virtually no TV so I hadn't thought of it. But my son-in-law loves his. I don't think his family has watched live TV for years.

  3. I got myself a laptop last fall, and it does come in handy when I'm traveling (which is not all that often), but when I'm at home I still prefer my old desktop. So naturally, I don't see the need for a tablet or even a smartphone. I just use my old dumb cellphone. I'm sorry ... but I'm square.

    But, just because I'm a late-adapter, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate all this new technology. In fact, I couldn't even begin to conduct my post-retirement freelance/consulting business without email and the internet. But that doesn't change the facts ... I'm still square.

    1. Frankly, I would have a tough time staying up to date with this blog without my smart phone. When new comments arrive I am notified on the phone and can post them right away. Usually I will wait until I get home to type in my response, but there isn't a long delay to have the author see his/her thoughts posted.

      AS I noted, I was very late with almost everything. Even now I am going to replace my dead desktop with another desktop, even though they are a dying breed.

  4. I just got a new phone and decided once again I am not ready for a smart phone. That's okay--I still use my phone just to talk and text.

    I did finally retire my desktop and now just have the laptop--that's working out just fine.

    For me, I think some of the hesitation is the tech part and the other part is the desire to have time away from the Internet and all that comes with it. Of course I get that when I'm up at the cabin, as I have been over the holiday weekend. But even at home, I like to be able to leave the laptop on the table and walk away. Sometimes hard to do!

    1. Good point, Galen, about being able to disconnect. With a laptop downstairs, a desktop upstairs, and the smart phone and Kindle always next to me it is too easy to grab for one.

      I envy you at the cabin. Our relentless 100 degree days continue. Flagstaff promises upper 70's and nights in the 40's for our trip starting Wednesday. I had to find a sweatshirt to pack!

  5. Just wanted to put my 2 cents in. We too are not quick to use new technology. But we have an old desk top computer (which we use daily) and an e-reader (although we still buy books) and flip top phones.

    However,our grown kids converted us to an iphone just recently... and we DO love it. It does everything (texting and pictures keeps us all connected and having the Internet at our fingertips is great, as well as saving imp info that we 'don't readily recall').

    When our desk top dies, we will probably get a laptop to replace it. My e-reader is hardly ever used since I got the iphone (However, it has its moments). But I have to say that the iphone definitely serves a need that I didn't even know I had. As for DVR, TIVO, etc. I don't watch that much TV, so they are of no interest to me... but I'm sure they are convenient for those who do.

    1. I'd agree that for me the smart phone has had the biggest technological impact on my life over the last year. It has become quite important in maintaining this blog. But, like you, I don't watch enough TV to make a DVR needed.

  6. I am a huge proponent of technology. I believe it keeps me current and that's important to me. If you don't get involved in social networking on some level you will never be able to catch up because it changes so very quickly.

    I see my sister-in-law who can't figure out how to comment on my blog and I just shake my head. She has a facebook acct. but if she goes on once a month I'm surprised. She's only 5 years older than me but honestly it's closer to 50. I think the big divide is technology. She's always been afraid of it. She makes a huge deal out of not wanting everyone to know her business. I asked her if she was in a witness protection program or something because otherwise you're pretty safe on facebook.

    Sorry... didn't mean to go off there. Good post!

    1. Your sister reminds me a bit of my dad when he was younger. He was trained as an electrical engineer and spent a lot of his career selling electronic equipment. Yet, he never, ever used a computer. He simply refused to use one or even attempt to understand its value. Even cell phones were never part of his life until I insisted he carry one while driving. Yellow legal pads were his medium of choice.

      You make an important point that there is a fear factor. For several years my wife was quite hesitant around a computer, fearing she could hit the wrong key and break it or destroy all the data on it. After many sessions explaining that it is very difficult to destroy a computer, unless you knock it off a table, she is now much more comfortable with the process. Once someone accepts that a computer is just a tool that does what you tell it to do, then some of that trepidation disappears.

      Personally, I don't use Facebook just because I don't want to invest the time it would take to make it a useful part of my life. I don't fear it, I just don't feel I need it.

    2. Good point about focusing on need rather than "just because it's there". Lots of really good tech stuff that is wonderful, but, as one would expect, a lot of inane use of technology (eg. the egotism of so many Twitter senders and YouTube pieces, and the (public) compulsion to check one's phone or computer every other minute/step for messages). I understand that one of our recent "savants" has labeled our tech revolution as the "new opiate of the masses". I agree.

    3. Just saw a new app for a smart that has real practical value: it tells you how long the lines are at each ride at Disneyland and exactly where the various characters are throughout the park..all in real time.

      No more 2 hour wait for the Dumbo ride!

    4. Can you believe? I once saw someone at a restaurant where music was playing hold up his iphone and bingo! he had the name of the song and the artist! I thought THAT was amazing... but it's just an App.

  7. As soon as we get a new tv we want to cut the cord on cable. At nearly $85. per month, cable costs have gotten out of hand, and this is not for any premium channels. I'm still investigating the options, including hulu, hulu+, netflix, etc, and we are going to try an antenna to pick up local stations. I'd love a tivo but won't pay the monthly subscription fees. As someone new to this, can anyone tell me is it possible to use a dvr to record tv shows if you don't have a tivo? We currently don't have a dvr so I don't know the limitations.

    Same goes for a smart phone. I would love to have one but in anticipation of working part time starting in January, I'm trying to decrease my monthly bills, not increase them. I have a pretty basic cell phone and don't text at all. I know people that love it but I'm not one of them. I've gone as far as blocking texting from my phone completely. You can call me if you want to communicate with me immediately, or e mail me if you are not in a hurry.

    I did go laptop for my last computer, dh still uses a desktop but wishes he had gotten a laptop too. I have a small off brand tablet that I bought thinking I'd use it for traveling, hooking up with free wifi to check internet and email, but I almost wish I had waited and just gone for a smaller laptop sometime in the future.

    I do think that at least knowing the basics of new technology is vital to keep up to date with the world, and as annoying as it can be, fb has helped me to keep in touch with family, and even get to know them better.

    1. Yes, Cindy, you should be able to record TV shows on a DVR, as long as they are simply over-the-air TV shows. I did that for awhile until I decided there was not much I cared enough about to record. And, now with virtually all network shows on-line I can watch something when I want.

      Recording on a DVR machine is more work than with a TIVO because you are actually burning the show on a DVD. But, if you use an erasable DVD then you can record over and over again.

      Hulu+ is great if you want mainly TV shows. Its movie selection is pretty lame. Netflix is the best for movies, though Amazon Instant is coming up fast. Vudu is another choice for movies, but its selection is poor and most of the films are second rate and not worth the cost.

      We will be taking the laptop and Kindle Fire on our RV vacation starting tomorrow since the parks have free WiFi and I need to write a few posts about our experiences.

  8. I love my Kindle and my IPod. There's no mobile service where I live so it doesn't make sense to get a SMART phone. I have a mobile that uses prepaid minutes only for when I travel out of our area in case of emergency. That's it for me for now in addition to my laptop.

    1. So, the Big Island doesn't have full cell coverage. Well, that is one way to keep technology under control. But, with a laptop, tablet, and reader you are nicely in touch.

      Hope all is well within and without for you, Sandra.