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On Aging with Dr. Roger Branch Sr.: Lost in 'the cloud'
Branch WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

I hear a lot lately about "the cloud," a cyberspace phenomenon in the realm of computers and smartphones. It is not physical, takes up no space and is not really anywhere but is everywhere. Apparently it is possible to park in the cloud an infinite amount of electronic information, which can be retrieved at will.

After struggling a bit with this mysterious entity - which is not an entity at all - I have concluded that it is easier to understand fully Einstein's Theory of Relativity or the doctrine of the Trinity than the cloud. Even without understanding, I know that I do not want anything stored in "it" because it is clear that hackers can hack anything ever sent through or connected to the World Wide Web (aka the internet). If you do not want anyone and everyone to see what you write, do not send emails, write tweets, post to Facebook, etc.

No, I do not understand the cloud, but there has been a lot that I have not understood about electronic communication since we moved past television. Many of my fellow elders share this state of specialized ignorance. Indeed, some know even less than me.

When desktop computers first became available, they were expensive and less user friendly than they are now. I entered the computer world because Georgia Southern provided one to me as department chair, and fellow faculty members like Richard Rogers and George Pratt taught me how to use it. Eventually, all faculty were provided computers, and we did better work because of them. However, many seniors could not afford one when they were younger - and still cannot now - and had no one to teach them how to use one. So, they are computer ignorant.

In fact, the cloud is not a significant issue for us. We are not going to generate enough "information" to need that sort of storage. The problem is that businesses and governments proceed as if everyone knows how to navigate the web and take care of business using those skills.

At every level of government, business and charity, we are urged to pay our bills or contributions electronically. The sales pitch is that this is more convenient for us, but the reality is that it puts our money in their hands instantly. They improve cash flow and hire fewer people than would be necessary if they were dealing with cash, check or money order. We get convenience but also exposure to electronic hacking, credit card fraud and identity theft.

Similarly, electronic shopping offers convenience and variety from the comfort of the easy chair at the risk of electronic exposure. Moreover, online buying robs the community of profits, sales taxes, property taxes, salaries paid to sales personnel and the opportunity to examine merchandise or question salespeople. It takes money to run a community and if .coms take away taxes from local governments, citizens have to shoulder more of the load.

When the first supermarket came to my hometown, my father objected to shopping there, pointing out that the owners of the three "mom and pop" grocery stores lived locally and kept all of their profits in Lyons. Mother still shopped at Piggly Wiggly, but, as usual, he was on to something in principal.

We seniors know that we are not going to stop these technologically-driven changes. We might as well get aboard. However, we beg for some consideration. Human worth is not measured in bytes or OS capacity. We once were at the cutting edge of technology and some of the knowledge from that day and our fathers' day is still relevant. A pinch of humility to go along with today's changing skills is appropriate.

Since seniors are still human, they can learn. We know how much we do not know. My children, grandchildren and probably even my great-grandchildren know more than I about computers and their applications and smart phones and what one can do with them. When a question of fact arises in my crowd, someone grabs a smart phone and reports the answer nearly instantly. I have such a phone, but do not know how to do that. In the past, new computers and cell phones came with instruction books in two or three languages, from which I could learn in time. Now, they seem to assume that buyers already know everything they need to know.

Most of us seniors are still creatures of the printed word. We need some books to help us catch up. For a time, there came out a stream of "For Dummies" books like my "PCs for Dummies," which is now out of date. How about some new ones, jargon-free, in normal English like "Computers for Fogies" and "Cell Phones, Including Smart Phones, for Fogies?"

Also needed is a comprehensive dictionary, which would transform electronic jargon into understandable English. Jargon is created by insiders to make them feel separate and superior to outsiders or to protect valued secrets. But in the marketplace, outsiders must be allowed in and some secrets must be shared.

Finally, teachers and translators are needed. As stated in an earlier column, senior centers, Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Tech, East Georgia College, schools, churches and some businesses could offer facilities, and in some cases, teachers. A lot of retirees have the necessary knowledge and skills to serve as teachers. Schools, businesses and even individuals who are upgrading equipment could donate computers and cell phones to be used in instruction.

Hey, people! Remember us? We contribute to your fund raisers when you call on us.

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.



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