Teenage tech support

Incline Village teens teach technology to senior citizens

Incline High School student Matt Cornell, 17, helps Carl Levinson, 81, with tech questions during a recent Seniors to Seniors event.

Incline High School student Matt Cornell, 17, helps Carl Levinson, 81, with tech questions during a recent Seniors to Seniors event.


Learn more about the Seniors to Seniors program by visiting: https://bit.ly/2rijiVa.

The internet is full of memes about teaching old people to use technology. And many young people are, no doubt, less than enthused by time spent helping their elders figure out the newest technology. Born and raised in the era of personal devices and internet culture, most teenagers and young adults possess a level of technological proficiency that can be frustrating to communicate across the generational divide. At Incline Village's public library, however, local high school students dedicate several hours every other week to doing just that.

The Seniors to Seniors program was restarted in February of this year by Incline High School student Matt Cornell, as a community service project for the National Honors Society. After learning about the program and discovering it was on hiatus, he felt it was a good application of his interests.

“I've always been interested in the newest technology and just seeing what it can do, because right now any device can do just incredible things,” Cornell said. “I figured if there's a way for me to bridge that gap between senior citizens and the newer technology, then that could be helpful.”

Cornell and usually one other volunteer spend afternoons on the first and third Wednesday of each month in a shared space at the Incline Village Library, where local senior citizens are encouraged to bring devices or questions about technology. Ricky Resendiz most often accompanies Cornell.

“Older people in my family always ask me for help and how to do something,” Resendiz said. “The first time I did it, I didn't know what to expect—but when I was sitting down with another senior and showing them around, it was actually pretty fun.”

The students said they get a range of different requests: from resetting a password and checking an email account, to helping one patron format the book he was writing. Occasionally, the fix can be more of a process, they said, in which case it's important to remain calm and communicative.

“I make sure they know how to do everything, step by step, and walk them through it,” Resendiz said. “Sometimes they might get a little frustrated or it might be a little harder for them to learn how to do it, but I just make sure that I'm polite as possible when I show them how to do it.”

The conversations they have with senior citizens aren't always difficult, though, and sometimes they find common ground in unexpected subjects. One particular couple, Cornell said, made an impression on him as they inquired about how to save and share their family photos.

“We had a great conversation about how—through the history of technology—the different devices and stuff are phased out, like the floppy disk, and then CD, and now even the thumbdrive,” Cornell said. “We were just talking about what's the safest way to make sure whatever you save will stand the test of time and how you can sort of predict that.”

While what Cornell and Resendiz do may resemble simple tech support, the service they're providing is valuable to senior citizens who have few resources for help when more and more aspects of health and finance are digitally automated. Cornell helped one gentleman list a house online, the sale of which was necessary for his retirement fund.

“I think it is one of the most important pieces of the library currently,” said Managing Librarian John Crockett of the Seniors to Seniors program. “Folks have to file their taxes online, have to get their forms online, have to apply for Social Security all online—so this is a vital role that the library wants to play.”

Crockett said the program is valuable, both as a collaboration between the Washoe County Public Library System and Incline High School, and as a part of the library's plan to foster digital literacy in the community. Resources like this, he said, will hopefully increase participants' confidence in using technology—even in the library.

He explained, “[With] libraries, in the past—it was very transactional, ‘I want this book.' You give me the book. ‘I have this question.' You give me the answer.' Now it's a lot more focusing on the learning and literacy aspect of it. It's finding out how to get to the ‘Help' menu so you can ask your own questions.”

While some form of technology training is offered at most branches of the Washoe County library system, Seniors to Seniors is especially valuable to Incline Village because of its relative isolation from the rest of the county.

“There was this one guy I helped, and after I was done helping him, he said, ‘If I have any more problems, I'll come back here because I really don't know where else I can get this help,'” said Resendiz.

Cornell said he plans to keep the program going into next year, when the term ‘Seniors to Seniors' will be a little more factual. Technically, right now, he's still a junior. After his own senior year, he'll look for someone new to take over.

From his time spent working with the senior citizens of his community, Cornell has some advice for making those intergenerational conversations a little easier:

“I've found that, if someone has a problem and you look at it and see it's super easy, you might not want to say, ‘Oh, yeah, you just do this.' You let them talk out their whole problem, and then walk them through it. You don't want to jump into it too fast, where maybe it's not clear to them. You just want to make sure they get their ideas out there, so you can sort of figure out what they were doing first.”