Surprise: Technology isn’t just a young man’s game. It hasn’t been for years, actually. Still, there are people that think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks—especially electronically-powered ones. However, the truth is that there are plenty of advances that allow even the most inexperienced user to connect at all hours and/or make day-to-day living a whole lot easier. Want to get Mom, Dad or your grandparents to explore their inner geekdom? Here are just a few ways our elders can embrace it and enhance the family unit – and amazingly, no, not a single one even involves using The Clapper.
Personal Communication Devices
Sometimes it’s hard to remember to call every day, every week or every month. However, surfing the Web seems to be a no-brainer. Those two worlds collide under Skype, a service that allows users to text, talk or videoconference as their main means of communication. Even better, Skype is free. It’s true. There are no landline and no cell phone fees. However, those incoming and outgoing calls must be made between Skype users. Otherwise, you can pay as you go or sign up for a subscription, which starts at $2.95 per month for unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada.
One other great thing about Skype is its variety of associated hardware. The ASUS AiGuru SV1 ($299.95) is the company’s first web videophone. The AiGuru SV1 allows for both voice and video calling, and has built-in Wi-Fi, which means it doesn’t even need a computer. If you like being tethered to your computer and your money though, theLogitech QuickCam Pro 9000 ($99.99) is a less expensive option. Even if your grandma won’t log into that Skype account, this webcam can sit atop any PC, and works in conjunction with most major instant messaging services. There are cheaper, options, too, such as the Microsoft’s LifeCam VX-1000 ($29.95) and the Logitech QuickCam Chat ($29.99). Ease of use, along with the price, makes any of those great for the casual user that just wants to check in on the grandkids. If you don’t need video capabilities, however, any old USB headset ($10-20) can also come in handy.
Looking for something slightly more fun? There’s a small army of personal robots brewing, which are part pet, part communication device. The iRobot ConnectR works with any web connection, allowing users to zip around the house to survey mom, dad and even the dog. It also allows for two-way communication via a top-mounted, full tilt-and-zoom video camera, a speaker and a microphone. At last look, the ConnectR was only available via a pilot program, but you can sign up for ConnectR updates on the iRobot website. If you’re not one for chitchat, the company’s Roomba line (starting at $129.99) won’t help you communicate, but it can clean up crumbs, pet hair, dust and other debris. For something with a bit more of a Terminator feel though, the WowWee Rovio ($300) doesn’t do floors or windows, but will also wander your house, seeking out family members for a peek or quick conversation.
Digital Photo Frames
Robots are fun, but could creep out the inexperienced technophobe. You might consider starting neophytes off easier with devices like Sony’s Vaio CP1 ($300), which allows you to send your best without having to look presentable or make small talk. This photo frame automatically loads pics from up to four Picasa web albums. Want your mom to know you’ve been eating well? Add the shots right to the web, and she’ll get them directly on the frame. When she’s not looking at your smiling face, she can also stream music and RSS feeds for news, weather and other info. If the parental units aren’t into online features, Kodak’s SV710 ($99.95) and Pandigital’s PAN3502W02 ($64.99) also provide photos and sound without the other bells and whistles.
Everyday Gadgets and Gizmos
Technology can help you reach out and touch someone, but it’s the sloth option that can really seal the deal with new users. Can you imagine Mom calling every restaurant in every surrounding town, and asking what’s on their menu? Well, maybe. However, there are plenty of devices to make day-to-day chores like this a lot more doable.
A remote control is a good example of how something simple has turned into a complicated problem. The first TV remote was a godsend. But on the flip side, having to field an individual remote for every device you’ve ever purchased can be downright confusing. Mom and Dad don’t want to fumble to change channels or fire up the DVD player. Thankfully, a good universal remote can put everything from audio and video to lighting and climate control into the palm of your hand. A good fit for beginners is Logitech’s Harmony line. For as little as $99, users can control multiple devices and get rid of the remote pile.
Speaking of pile up: Have you ever looked at your parents’ digital camera? Chances are the memory card is busting with magical moments from at least six Christmases past. Instead of trying to convince them that clearing the card won’t wipe out every memory, Lexar’s Shoot-n-Sync ($99) can instantly transfer photos from the card to a PC, as long as the user is within the connected Wi-Fi area.
Effortless Email Access
Making the day’s events slightly easier is a nice selling point, but keeping in touch with you will surely put a smile on any newbie’s fresh face. If they’re still having problems logging on to the “World Wide Web,” have them play around with Peek. This pocket-sized device instantly connects you to email, with no phones ringing, no web browsing, and no contracts. The device is $99.95, with another $20 per month for easy access. If your parent or grandparent is completely tech-shy, they can still be part of the email loop with Presto Mail. This service provides a hard copy of email, photos or other documents you want to share. Just create an email, hit send, and that mail can be retrieved via the telephone and printed up to five times per day. The Presto Mail printer costs $149.99, with service starting at $12.50 per month.
Digital Cameras, Camcorders and Video Games
Let’s not forget how technology can actually enhance the family bonding experience either. For instance: Consider popping some corn, firing up the TV and reliving some of the family’s funniest home videos. Both the Creative Vado ($99.99) and the Kodak Zi6 ($179.95) can provide highlights from a pocket-sized camcorder whose one-button interfaces prove incredibly simple to use.
To bump things up in quality, but not confusion, try the Canon ZR900 ($249), featuring a 41x advanced zoom which allows users to capture great family moments, even from across the room. And if the family starts getting all high-tech, you can even upgrade to the high-def magic of Aiptek’s HDV21X ($209.99).
For a little less live action, digital cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S650 ($129.99), Canon PowerShot A470 ($119.99) and Nikon CoolPix L18 ($129.95) do have video options, but are more about getting great pictures out of the budding shutterbug.
Once you’ve run out of photographic memories, fire up video game systems like the Xbox 360 ($299) or the Nintendo Wii ($249) to create some new classic moments. While video games may seem like a young man’s game, both Microsoft and Nintendo don’t cut the female or senior sects out of their marketing plan. In the case of the Wii, aside from getting everyone active, it can also provide some much needed training for the virtual senior bowling leagues that are popping up all over the country.
Nonetheless, even if you don’t see grandpa or your mother firing up a robot helper or getting their game on, there are still plenty of ways to get them to toy around with technology. Just be prepared to do some gentle handholding, initial setup and the occasional round of tech support. But turnabout’s fair play, right: After all, it’s not like kissing your boo-boos, teaching you to ride a bike and picking you up from detention was a picnic for them.
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