Niagara Gazette


September 11, 2012

THE NETCRACKER: Computer instructor urges senior users not to quit

Niagara Gazette —  “Can’t never did anything” is a quote from my mother, Joyclyn Kaufmann.  The word "can’t" was not allowed in our house. We learned that the only real failure occurred when we didn’t try, so we learned not to use the words “I can’t.” This is my motto when teaching people, no matter their age or skill level.

On a daily basis I work with seniors, some of whom are quite elderly and experience technology successes that they never thought they could achieve.  Here are a few stories I want to share with you so you know why I KNOW that you too can be successful in your endeavors with technology.  My students are so very impressive. They are truly lifelong learners.  You can be too!!!

Just this week I received a telephone call from one of my lovely ladies, Beverly, who is 89 years old.  Beverly called me in a panic because she turned her computer on and when she tried to put her password in she received a message that went something like this:  “Your keyboard is not connected.”  First I told her to check to see if the cord was connected between the computer and the keyboard.   She said, “There is no cord.”  I also inquired to determine if she had moved the keyboard since the last time she used the computer.  She said, yes, she had dusted the desk.

Realizing that Bev had a wireless keyboard and that she was using a MacIntosh desktop, I searched the Internet to see how to enable her keyboard.  She was unable to a power button on the keyboard, and her eyesight prevented her from reading the model number on the bottom of the keyboard.  After a few minutes I suggested that she look to see if she had an owner’s manual.  It was hard to figure out where her “on” button might be since I had no information to identify what she was using.  When she called me back a few minutes later, I told her to look for a picture of the keyboard in the manual.  She found one and immediately located the on button.  To her amazement, the keyboard was now functional.

This simple story illustrates how successful she was in solving her own problem and the fact that this problem was very easily solved.  Sometimes we panic before we take the few steps that will help us to resolve what seems to be catastrophic.  Most times we can fix the troubles we’re having, even if we have to get a little help in doing so.

During the last couple of minutes in my first classes a couple of years ago, one of the gentlemen in the class couldn’t understand why he could no longer move his mouse on his brand new laptop.  I looked at it quickly but had to get to another class some distance away.  I told John, in his mid 80’s, that I would stop by the next day to help him with his computer.

The next day we looked at his owner’s manual to find out how to enable and disable the mouse.  With a couple of keystrokes we had the mouse working again.  Before we found the solution, he had decided that his computer was a piece of junk and that this problem could never be fixed.  He poured over the manual before I worked with him and tried to figure out what every button on the keyboard would do.  What caused the problem in the first place was touching the “hotkeys” in a certain combination.  These keys are the very top row of your laptop.  While these keys are important, it’s best for those who don’t understand them to not touch them.

Seventy-eight year old Julia called me about a year ago very upset after speaking with her internet service provider for over an hour on the telephone.  She told me she was just about in tears and ready to throw her computer out the window.  After she calmed down she was able to explain her problem,  and we had her back online in about five minutes.  She had taken her laptop with her some place, and when she returned home and plugged it in, she was no longer connected to the internet.  Most times our internet connections are set to automatically connect.  For some reason the connection was not recognized.  Over the telephone Julia was able to follow my instructions and was up and running in just a few minutes.  She was a happy camper and no longer wanted to toss her computer.

Lastly, Barbara called me after learning how to use Skype during class.  She wanted to download the program at home and asked me to come over for a private session  to do it for her.  I suggested that we do it together over the telephone so she could have Skype right then and not have to pay for a class.  She reluctantly agreed.  As I took Barbara (82) through the steps, she felt quite accomplished to see that she was able to complete this task on her own.  She was quite happy with herself and now she uses Skype to keep in touch with family.

Remember that when you don’t know how to do something it’s best to try, try again.  I hear from my students all the time that they feel stupid.  While this word makes me feel uncomfortable, I do understand.  Keep in mind that when we don’t know how to do something that doesn’t mean we are stupid.  It means that we need to learn how to do it — that goes for any skill at any age.


Kim Tomaszewski is owner of The Net Cracker, a company that teaches basic computer skills to senior citizens in WNY.  If you have a question, want information on upcoming classes or have a suggested topic for a future column, please contact Kim at  531-0494 or online at



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