By “technology penalties,” I don’t mean when your computer shuts down, your internet connection drops or a three-paragraph email “disappears” before you could send it.

A number of years ago, Professor Royal Van Horn wrote about what he called the technology penalty: what happens when you do something using technology that you could do easier, quicker or more efficiently without using digital technology. With the massive changes in technology in the last few years, the benefits for using technology have increased. But so have some of the penalties.

Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate technology and use it everyday. But there are times when using it is definitely not to my advantage — when it takes longer, when the issue is not resolved and when an old-fashioned method simply works better.

Here are several of my technology penalties:

1. Nothing like a paper calendar. OK, I admit it. I may be hopelessly out-of-date, but I still appreciate my personal planner that allows me to keep my own physical calendar in my hand and not on my devices or in the cloud. I have a full-size calendar that shows a month at a glance, exactly how my brain works. Each day has plenty of room for appointments and reminders and erasures. And occasionally, I need to look back at a previous year, and that seems to be much easier to do with the paper calendar, at least for me. While my calendar is too large to fit in my pocket, it does fit nicely in my backpack. To be honest, I am included on several cloud calendars that I check regularly, but except for Zoom calls, I rarely enter information to my online calendar. No need to haul out my phone to check my calendar on a screen that hardly allows me to see one day let alone an entire month of activities. I know, there are millions of people who use their devices for online calendars, but for me it is a tech penalty I am not interested in. Best yet, I get a free paper calendar as a gift every year from my financial planner. Net cost: zero.

2. Call, don’t fill out forms online. Yikes … this one really drives me crazy. How about using online connections for ordering information or taking care of customer service issues? Just last night, my wife and I were trying to cancel a popular online streaming service that, like millions of others, we had used as a trial period and then let roll over into a yearly charge. How much did we use this account last year? Nothing. Nada. Not one thing. And it cost us $139 for the year. So, why pay for another year when we were not using this service? OK, we thought, it should be simple to cancel online; after all, this is a very popular service. Not so easy. In total, Connie and I spent at least 60 minutes logging in and being told that we were not members (which we clearly were). So, we could not follow the directions to cancel. All efforts to work around this issue led to a cycle that got us nowhere. Took another 10 minutes to find out how to contact customer relations and finally called someone to straighten it out. The customer service rep was polite and helpful, and we were done.


Another example closer to home: L.L. Bean is well known for their terrific customer relations. Why would I ever waste time ordering a new shirt or a pair of khakis online when I can call and talk to someone who can take care of my transaction in a fraction of the time? If a size or color is not available, the real person I’m talking to settles my problem immediately and satisfactorily. Calling and ordering something from L.L. Bean has always been a pleasant experience. Fast, efficient and friendly! Who doesn’t want that kind of human contact? When I make any kind of call to a business, I’m usually whispering to myself, “I just want to talk to a real person.”

3. Another significant technology penalty in my estimation is unfocused and random searches that go nowhere. Here is an example: I just Googled, “How much snow has fallen in Maine this year?” and received 35,100,000 responses in .59 seconds. Of course, the vast majority of those responses do not answer my question. Most have something to do with snow — historical records, many newspaper stories about snow storms, ski reports and millions of other stories about road salt, blogs about cooking in cold weather and any topic you can imagine related to … snow. Page 1 of my search results has several potential answers to my question, but even by Page 2 of the responses, there are articles and information from four years ago. These responses do not answer my search question.

To be useful, a general Google (or any other search engine) query needs to be more focused than merely throwing out keywords and hoping for the best. Otherwise, your tech penalty is wasting your time, not knowing how to find what you need and wondering about the reliability of the information you do find.

We’ll talk more on “power searching” in an upcoming column, but for now, here is one thing you can do to narrow your search focus in Google: Almost always, I set the time settings under “Search Tools” for a reasonable time framework. Unless I am doing historical research, I typically want the latest information for my search, so I usually set “past year.” That eliminates anything more than a year old and limits my search in a way that is helpful.

4. Is it written somewhere that I MUST respond immediately? The expectation of many (most?) people is that if they text you, you should respond very soon, if not immediately. I don’t subscribe to that expectation. I don’t live on my iPhone and I never set up notifications so my devices never ding, buzz, vibrate or call my name when I receive a call, text or email.

In short, I want to control any incoming communication and not be controlled by it. I used to think that this was a generational thing, but I’m no longer sure of that. Boomers and seniors can be as demanding of immediate communication as younger people.


It is interesting how we learn the communication style and expectations of friends, family and business connections. Some will respond sooner than later and some will only respond by text and rarely answer a phone call. Older tech users often rely on emails over texts and calls. Some will text before they call.

The best course of action may be to let people you communicate with regularly know what your communication style is so they know how best to contact you. Will you respond immediately to texts? For an important issue, do you prefer to be receive a phone call? When do you use email?

What are your technology penalties and how can you work around them?

BoomerTECH Adventures ( provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures rely on their skills as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, tech tips and timely blog posts.

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