From the Asbury Park Press, Friday, August 7, 2015
Seniors need tech help?
LAKEWOOD – Henry Parcell sat at the head of the table one July day and fielded questions. How do you get to the website? What’s a home page? How do you turn up the volume?
If they could figure it out, the opportunities were endless. They could video-chat with their children and grandchildren. They could post photos of their recent travels. They could play games and read the news and email their friends.
“I’m simply amazed and blown away by what it can do,” Parcell, 81, said. “If you want to stay up with the times, you have to be on it.”
Parcell, known here as iHenry, has become the go-to technology expert at Harrogate, a retirement community here, hosting workshops with his iPad-wielding neighbors.
What was significant during a recent visit both to Parcell’s apartment and the workshop he led, however, was what was missing. You didn’t hear any complaints about new-fangled devices or kids that didn’t know how to communicate or the world that is getting smaller and scarier by the day.
“You find people with common interests, and that keeps you engaged in life,” said Don Johansen, executive director of Harrogate. “The more engaged they get, the deeper friendships result from it.”
Parcell has lived here with his wife of 55 years, Pru, for a little more than a year. He owns: an iMac for his desk that he uses to keep track of records and finances; an iPad mini that he uses to read the news and keep track of his appointments; and an iPhone 6, along with 75 apps.
Henry Parcell, also known as “iHenry,” works with Jan Shannon and her iPad at the Harrogate senior village in Lakewood, Friday, July 17, 2015. (Photo: THOMAS P. COSTELLO)
Not a techie
There is nothing in his past to suggest he would become a techie. He was born in Plainfield during the Great Depression in 1933, came of age during World War II and spent his career selling baby and adult diapers.
His job took him on the road as many as 40 weeks a year. When he needed to make a call, he searched for a pay phone. When he got lost, he found a gas station, where the attendants always knew the directions. There was no Yelp to suggest restaurants or MLB.com to watch out-of-market baseball games.
He retired in 1995 – before the Internet was as vital as electricity. But three years later, he bought a Dell desktop computer to keep his personal records. Over and over, he found that technology made his life easier. When a new gadget came out, he embraced it, making regular visits to the Apple store at the Freehold Raceway Mall for pointers.
You can try to get him to talk about what’s been lost to technology – the personal interaction, the work ethic, spelling and grammar. But he won’t take the bait.
“Yes, they can talk, they can make sense, they can communicate,” Parcell said of the younger generation. “It’s just a different way of doing things. They’re using the tools of the time.”
‘You have to be patient’
To those gathered at his workshop, there is no sense fighting it. Jan Shannon, 77, has an iMac, an iPad, an iPhone, a Kindle and a Facebook page that’s filled with photos from her travels around the world. Hungary, Morocco, Hawaii, India.
Parcell is “very patient,” she said with a laugh. “You have to be patient.”
The tools of the times are changing in a blink. How do you keep up? Have a place where you jot down all of your passwords in case you forget them. And think about whether the new device is a want or a need, Parcell said.
“He keeps saying every other day, I’m going to get an (Apple) watch,” Pru Parcell said. “I say, ‘You don’t need a watch.’ ”
But by the end of the interview, it wasn’t clear who would win this particular debate.
“Do I need it? No,” Parcell said, smiling. “Do I want it? Yes.”
Michael L. Diamond; 732-643-4038; firstname.lastname@example.org
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