September 02, 2007
| by Cindy Davis
My in-laws are 79 and 81 years old. They live fairly active lives. My father-in-law, Bud, plays tennis a couple of times a week and goes bowling once a week. My mother-in-law, Phyllis, goes for a brisk walk for an hour every day and counts every gram of everything they both consume to ensure they stay healthy. They have better health, energy and outlook than many people 20 and 30 years their junior.
They have seen so many technological advances in their days, it astounds me. For 47 years, Bud worked at GE in Lynn, MA. When my husband and I purchased our house more than 20 years ago, there was Bud helping us rewire the old electrical and set up new electronics. Looking back, it was so simple then.
Recently, Phyl received a letter from AT&T, her cell service provider, informing her that she had to turn in her cell phone for a new one because her current one was going to be out of date and soon would not work. I didn’t see the letter, but I am sure that that is what she believed to be true. AT&T nicely “gave” her a new cell phone. She asked for something simple, and they did in fact give her the simplest cell phone AT&T carries. And because they were so nice, they had her sign a deal for THREE FLIPPIN YEARS. You’ve got to be kidding me. I am REALLY mad about this one. And to think that they only have the gall to hang the rest of us for two years.
Bud and Phyl brought the cell phone to me to program the phone book and give them a little primer on how to use the phone. I can’t even begin to convey to you how sad this experience became. I realized that my father-in-law’s capacity to learn how to operate new gizmos had diminished. The top two buttons on the simplest phone available to them connected them to the web and called up text messaging. Those buttons weren’t labeled until you pressed them and the action was put in play. It became clear to me that I needed to find a new phone that was just for calling and nothing else.
I assumed that either AT&T or Verizon must have such a simple device. I called each of them and got the same response: that they no longer had a phone that just placed calls without any additional features. Each of them tried to convince me that the phones they carried were simple. Yes, simple for people who wouldn’t get confused if the phone did something they didn’t understand and would be able to get back to what they wanted to do: make a phone call. Fortunately, I got a great woman in customer service at AT&T who was willing to look into my in-laws’ plan for me (even though she wasn’t supposed to, given I wasn’t the person paying for the plan) and let me know that there was time to cancel it altogether. Her grandmother was going through the same issues. It’s nice to know there are still some people in big companies who have compassion.
I did some checking online and found what looks to be a great service and phone called Jitterbug. Check it out on www.jitterbug.com. Not unlike other people in their generation, my in-laws weren’t comfortable going with a company they weren’t familiar with, though, and we were running out of time to cancel. In the end, we did cancel their AT&T contract, and for an additional $10 a month added them onto their daughter’s Verizon service—with a phone that isn’t any more simple than the one they had from AT&T, but at least they weren’t locked in for three years.
I haven’t had the advantage of handling the phone or trying the Jitterbug service, but it sounds like the perfect solution for anyone who needs simplicity and a little help. There are two different phones to choose from: one that only has three buttons, for those who might be more challenged, and one that looks like a good, old-fashioned cell phone—but a lot better.
The phone that I still hope to get for my in-laws has many great and easy-to-use features. The one I like the most is the operator-assisted calls. Just by pressing the number 0 and the button “yes,” you are connected to the Jitterbug operator. The operator knows who you are and has a list of all of your phone numbers with the associated name. For instance, my father-in-law could just say, “please connect me to my daughter-in-law, Cindy,” or “please call my doctor.” Of course, there’s the traditional phone book as well, but I have a feeling Bud would use the former feature. The Jitterbug web site is great; it is easy to navigate and answered every question I could imagine. The cost of the phone is only $150, and the service plans are very flexible. There is only a one-year contract, and if you cancel within that year, you only have to pay for half of the remaining months. They seemed to have taken everything into consideration for seniors.
In fact, the Jitterbug phone and service seems to be a great solution not only for seniors but for anyone who needs the simplicity of being able to make and receive calls without the fuss of the greater digital world. You’ve got to check out the demo on the Jitterbug site, because even if you don’t need this service, and no matter how tech savvy you are, I know you will be very impressed with how thoughtful and simple they have made the technology. (The phone is made by Samsung, by the way.)
How dare AT&T and Verizon abandon the Greatest Generation when it comes to electronics? After all, this is the generation that made them who they are today. And they should watch out, because that generation’s is going to need their kids (the baby boomers) soon, and we’ll drop them like a flippin’ hot potato.
Cindy Davis is the editor-in-chief of Electronic House magazine. Born in 1960, she is at the tail end of the baby boomer generation and would burn her 50-inch plasma; 15-inch, 32-inch and 42-inch LCDs; and FiOS connection with three HD DVR boxes in protest of what is right for her whole family. She is about to purchase an Apple iPhone but would rather Apple and AT&T had served the Greatest Generation first. Where are our priorities?