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Posted on March 12, 2019 by Christine Crosby in bias, DEANNA SHOSS, technology

Technology Assistance: Helpful Or Bias?

Technology assistance: helpful or bias?


I asked a male-millennial-something to take a picture of me at a recent event. I was merely closing another app before opening the camera when he started giving multiple instructions, reaching over to tap things, and telling me which buttons to push as though it were my first time holding such a ‘newfangled doohickey.’

“Thank you for explaining to me how to use the phone I’ve had for four years,” I said to him, a little sarcastically. “I have no idea how I was using it all this time leading up to this moment when you told me how.”

And then, not even 24 hours later, I was on a bus with the same group having a chat, when ANOTHER young millennial/borderline-iGen male reached over and grabbed my phone to show me how to do something on it.

“Seriously? What the hell!” I shouted, outraged by this second offense.

 They think I’m an old lady who doesn’t know how to use technology.

That might sound like a harsh reaction, but I’m sure it was fueled by a sensitivity opened during the first incident. Was I detecting a pattern? My conclusion: They are doing this because of age bias. They think I’m an old lady who doesn’t know how to use technology. After all, there was a 25+ year age difference between us.

Ethnography and the single person focus group

Being the curious researcher I am, I had to know. Is it indeed an age thing, as in “they think I’m too old to know?” Or is it gender based, as in “mansplaining?” Two men acting under the assumption that a woman is technologically inferior and needs it to be explained? So I started watching more closely.

I asked a young man at a wedding I attended. “Is this a thing? Do millennials grab each other’s phones without asking, to show them how to use it?”

“I hate that!” he declared. “My girlfriend always does that. I would never do it. That’s someone’s property!” And with one person both my age and gender theories were debunked.

Next I tried ethnography. I witnessed a 50-something marketing consultant (*cough*me*cough*) working with a client who was more than 30 years older than she. They were trying to fix something with his email. As he scrolled up and down she reached out, intending to be helpful, touching his computer screen. “There it is,” she said cheerily. “I know,” he answered, not so cheerily.

Oops. After a moment of self-reflection, she realized she’d just done the same thing to her client that the other younger “helpers” had done to her.

Unsolicited jumping in for an unneeded, unappreciated rescue.

Conclusion: Patience is still a virtue

The common characteristic in all of these cases may just be patience, as in the patience level of the person initiating the offense.

I shouldn’t have assumed they were making judgments about my abilities based on my age, gender, or otherwise.

This entire experience reminds me of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” In other words, this isn’t about us, it’s about them!

I shouldn’t have assumed they were making judgments about my abilities based on my age, gender, or otherwise. It’s possible they were just being impatient, and could have reacted the same way no matter who it was.

So can the patient and the impatient live in harmony? Sure they can, at least when it comes to cell phones. Here are some friendly etiquette suggestions to coexist:

Ask first

Instead of asserting your expertise, politely ask “Do you need help with that?” or “May I show you that on your phone?”

Give them a second chance (aka wait to be asked)

If someone doesn’t get it right the first time, give them a minute to try again before you jump in. Seriously, if someone puts the wrong end of their card into the chip reader, they likely just pulled it out of their wallet and didn’t look first. There’s no need to snatch the card out of their hand and put it into the chip reader for them (I’m looking at you, Mr. Liquor Store Clerk).

Own your temperament

For those who are impatient: If someone is simply too slow for your patience, admit that you’re not the most patient person. Adding a little self-deprecating humor works wonders in dissolving the opportunity for them to take offense. Honesty is the best policy (and it’s certainly better than being rude).

Be open to learning something new

On the flip side, if someone tries to help you, feel free to say “thanks so much for being helpful, but I’ll do it.” Another approach is to let them know it’s more helpful if they show you, rather than doing it for you, so that you learn for next time.

And always be open to learning something new. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Hmmm…I wonder what he said when he met a woman.


artificial IntelligenceDeanna Shoss is a marketer, writer, interculturalist in Chicago. As President and CEO of Intercultural Talk, Inc. she provides digital, intercultural and real life marketing for entrepreneurs and people following their passions post age 50, who need strategy and know-how to adapt to new communication technologies. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish and French and is a certified Body Pump and group fitness instructor.


Read more from Deanna Shoss

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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