16 August, 2021

Technology and childlessness

On a social media group of people ageing without children, someone wrote abouthaving technical difficulties during an online event, her embarrassment about having these issues and needing to address them publicly, and her regret that, if she had had children, they would have helped her, and she wouldn’t have felt so exposed.

I understand her feelings, but wanted to put another point of view on this:

  • Yes, children may have been able to help, but often their knowledge is very specialised – they know how to do the things they do. Some are intuitive, but others aren’t, so they may appear computer whizzes but perhaps just know how to do what they do very efficiently, and can’t actually apply that knowledge to other areas of technology.
  • Also, many kids do these things automatically, and don’t really know what or why they are doing it. So they can’t teach. But they may do it quickly, and solve the problem there and then.
  • They’re also only around for (relatively) a short period of time – maybe eight years at home when they could actively help. And after they leave home, there’s not much difference between parents and non-parents when it comes to having in-house assistance to solve technological problems.
  • In my experience, the absence of a child-staffed IT Help Desk at home has made me more self-sufficient than most of my parent friends and family.

In fact, I’ve made sure that I figure out as much as possible around technology being used today, simply because I know that if I can’t (or my husband can’t) there is no-one to help us. We have seen our parents struggle, and know that it will not be easy. My FIL was a relatively early adopter, and had a computer in the 1980s, and was using it in the 90s and 2000s. But by the 20-teens, he was struggling. He’d never really understood the basics of file systems, of how to find your way around a site or app, and tended to do things out of habit and muscle memory. His use of technology was always learned, by rote, and never intuitive. So when things became more complicated, he was lost. And of course, as he got older, as well as finding it was hard to learn anything new, he actually lost knowledge of what he used to do. Part of that might have been age, part was inability to concentrate (age or health), and part was loss of eyesight. This combination of factors has me well aware that I will need to prepare for the time when I cannot use technology as easily as I can now.

But in the meantime, I know that I have a better knowledge of technology than a number of my friends and relatives who rely on their kids to sort things out for them. The people I know who have said, “I can’t really figure out (for eg.) Zoom " have largely been those with kids. Whereas those of us without native-born IT support in our families have had to figure these out ourselves, or not use Zoom (or other apps) at all. In a variation of the “necessity is the mother of invention” quote, in our case we could change it to “childlessness creates technological competence.”

It is also a variation on the old “teach a man to fish … “ proverb.

“Help an adult with a computer/internet issue (or do it for them),
and solve their problem for a day.
Teach them to do it, and solve that problem till another one arises.
Let them (or help them) teach themselves,
and solve that problem and many others for a lifetime*!”

I’m not saying it is easy. It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I struggle with some aspects of technology. But I feel proud when I've figured it out. And I like understand new technological innovations. Ultimately, I’ve forced myself to do it, because the option is feeling cut off, left behind, and isolated. And I don’t need anymore of that, do I?


* Or close to it.


  1. yes, I totally agree with you!!
    Exactly - I know that if I can’t (or my husband can’t) there is no-one to help us. Me and my husband are also very up-to date with all technology.

  2. Going back to school forced me to update my basic computer skills. I felt so out of touch but I had been out of the workforce for five years and a lot had changed in that time. Well, in my experience anyway.

    Most recently, I've had to learn the electronic documentation system at my new job. Computer systems are never intuitive for me. I always struggle, but I eventually figure it out.

    I don't choose technology. I'd rather be sewing lol. But the technology that is required of me at work and on my cell phone keeps me learning. I've learned a little through blogging too, though I know there's a ton more to know.

    Long comment and I haven't even said the most important part, which is the fact that, unfortunately, having kids doesn't end up being the great backup plan that a lot of people counted on... I mean, it's not like I'm much help to my own parents with technology! Haha.