For decades, baby boomers have led the way in commerce, entertainment, social responsibility and other essential aspects of American culture. But, retired educator Ed Brazee says, when it comes to using rapidly advancing digital technologies for personal benefit and enjoyment, many boomers are barely hanging on.
Brazee, 67, of Orono is a co-founder of BoomerTECH Adventures, a year-old business aimed at helping older Mainers get their digital acts together. Whether it’s staying in touch with children and grandchildren, finding destinations in unfamiliar cities, editing smartphone photos or checking Facebook and email while traveling, Brazee said, “there seems to be a business niche for helping baby boomers stay current with technology.”
Often, he said, the most helpful guidance for getting comfortable with new smartphones, tablets and computers comes in person, from a fellow boomer like him.
On a recent afternoon, Brazee was at the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, meeting with 53-year-old Stephanie Egenhofer, who works there as an administrator.
“When I started working here, I realized people were very tech-savvy,” Eganhofer said. “The minister sends out texts all the time, and there are always emails I need to respond to, whether I’m in the office or not.”
So she ditched her trusty flip phone in favor of a smartphone that allows her to access her email, conduct online searches and send texts more easily, using the petite QWERTY keyboard screen instead of her old phone’s clunky number pad.
But her new iPhone 6 came with a bewildering array of other capabilities and built-in apps.
“My kids are not around much anymore,” she said, “so I had to figure out how to use it on my own.”
Under Brazee’s guidance, Egenhofer has learned the basics and is branching out, cautiously. She is exploring video calling options such as FaceTime and Skype, which allow her to connect with family members in the U.S. and Europe for free. She also is interested in the music app Spotify, so her sons can send her playlists they think she’ll enjoy. She likes an app that tracks her weekly exercise program. And she is learning to take, edit and organize photos with the phone’s advanced camera options.
Even moderately tech-savvy boomers can Google “How do I set up a Skype connection?” Brazee said. But the sheer number of responses returned on that search query can be overwhelming.
That’s where BoomerTECH Adventures comes in. From customized one-on-one and small-group sessions to a new online iPhone course in development, Brazee and his partners — 68-year-old Jill Spencer, a former high school social studies teacher in Lisbon, and 61-year-old Chris Toy, a former high school principal in Bath — say they have the answers boomers need to make the most of their devices.
Prices start at $35 per person for a one-hour session. Gift certificates are available.
Brazee, retired from a long career as a professor of education at the University of Maine, remembers when then-Gov. Angus King proposed the Maine Learning Technology Initiative in 2001, which eventually provided a laptop computer to every middle school student and teacher in the state.
“I was teaching middle school educators at the time,” he recalled, “and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I really have to get up to speed with this.’” Staying current with technology is is still a priority. “The reality is,” he said, “this is the way the world works now.”