Why Don’t Seniors Bank Online?

The banks are all closed…and my parents want to pay for the errands

A picture of a jam jar filled with dollar bills and the label on it says "retirement fund." This is a stock image for an AARP program called mysavingsjar
bank online or in a jar? ..image source: mysavingsjar.org (AARP)

Dear Ms Smartphone: I am helping my parents during the pandemic and do their grocery shopping and other chores. My Mom says she wants to reimburse me but she does not have Venmo or an account to bank online. The banks in our area are all closed and she does not want to go out anyway. Is it too late to get her to change her habits? Taylor, Newton

Dear Taylor,

Although they say that cash is king, it is certainly taking a backseat in this time of Covid. For fear of handling paper, more of us are using credit and debit cards.  And, for the smartphone savvy, this is the shining moment for Apple Pay and Google Pay (if not Bitcoin!).

Older people have preferred brick and mortar banks but this is probably the wakeup call to try online. Most older people have a foundation for trust since they receive digital funds through Social Security or Medicare.

It’s A big Loss….

One financial services firm, TrueLink, put the cost of elder financial abuse at nearly $37 billion per year. That includes a loss of around $17 billion from “exploitation” like quack investment schemes, nearly $13 billion from identity theft and other frauds, and just under $7 billion from abuse by caregivers. I think this is the worst case scenario, but the numbers do give pause.

How to Think Online…

Capital One (the bank) observed that only 18% of people over 60 used online banking. They developed an online curriculum with the National Council on Aging. If your parents are motivated to watch it, the multi-part videos should make them feel more secure and comfortable using their computer, if not their phone, for full scale banking. AARP also has a number of educationl programs, including mysavingsjar.org

The AARP has some good advice for doing banking when the banks are closed, and elsewhere, they have noted that depending on your parent’s situation, they might prefer an online account that allows a second pair or eyes to monitor it.

More Tips…

Accessing their phone instead of the computer for banking might seem like a viable option, but  I have some concerns.  Sometimes older people have difficulty using their phones for skilled task because of  health-related issues, like  eyesight deterioration or the coordination of motor skill. Sometimes they do not practice or know good digital hygiene:  for example, knowing how to log out of apps, use unique passwords, or practice two-step authentication.

So, if you do want to make them phone savvy perhaps a cash intermediary app like  Venmo or Paypal  might be a baby step for you and your parents to take together. Then you can exchange small amounts of money and get the groceries paid for without cash without full scale online banking.  But, if they are resistant, have Mom write you a plain old fashioined paper check that you can deposit in a digital second.

Zoom Fatigue: How to Overcome

A whiteboard is shown and for each day of the week, scheduled online meetings on zoom or facetime.
Zoom Fatigue! Photo Illustration: Dave Cole/WSJ

Dear Ms. Smartphone: After a meeting or two on Zoom, and even a catch-up with girl friends, I am zonked out. Sometimes I skip meals because I feel so fatigued and crawl into bed. It’s just the opposite for my son, who is now home from college. He goes on Zoom in the evening with his friends, and stays on it for hours. Then he’s spry and awake! Is this an age thing or something else?  Rupa, Berkeley

Dear Rupa: A lot of parents are asking the same thing. For elders, it’s an age thing because we did not come of age in the time of zoom. And, the two-way technology is still evolving so there are lots of asynchronous moments and dropped connections to challenge our patience. In a previous post I noted how our physical communications depend on being able to interpret very subtle non-verbal cues like an upturned smile, the twitch of an eye, or the flick of the hair. Most of these cues are at a subliminal level. Zoom meetings, as well as informal chats with our friends, can be stressful for those of us used to processing our social cues differently. 

The Lack of Multitasking

Like you, I find video chats to be draining but for an additional reason; it’s the absence of multi-tasking. When you phone me, say on a voice call or text, I might be doing other things….but you can’t see that.  We have gotten used to being mobile and doing lots of (other) things when we have 2 way communication. That level of distraction works most of the time, but not in the car. Focusing for an extended time on the red dot of the camera feels like I am in line-up in a police station (not that I will confess to that!)

Search for Best Zoom Games

When your son goes on Zoom and feels spry afterwards, that’s because he engages with his friends and content, in an entirely different manner. There are lots of third-party sites to link to, The list of games is long…but familiar. Search for games to play on Zoom: you’ll find Monopoly, Battleship, Pictionary, Guess Who, and many many more. Then there are the ‘Drinking Game’ versions, like Battleship with shot glasses….you get the picture! And, to my point about multi-tasking, just one kid needs to be on a computer. The rest can join in on their phones.  That means that they do not have to stay stationary, with eyes glued to the red dot. They are probably moving around the room, browsing other screens, and, of course, eating and drinking.


In these times of quarantine, I would encourage anyone to try out these games with an old established  friend and picture yourself as a young teen. Experiment together. Put it this way: Imagine that it was 1915 and your family had just installed a new Bell phone. You were advised to use it only for emergencies or something urgent. Now fast-forward to 1960, and you are a teen, able to spend hours after school conversing with friends on Bell phones. My point is that technology changes over time, and what is once serious business morphs into social play.

Memes: Why So Popular?

What is it about Memes? Am I missing out?

A meme that won't bite. There is a picture of two wirefox terriers side by side. One has a horrible haircut and one is groomed. Is your dog groomer qualified?
A meme that won’t bite!

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I don’t usually browse much online but during the quarantine, I was scrolling on Instagram and came across your site. There was a picture of a sign-board, and a meme you called the ‘me me.’ It seemed like a big joke, but not to me. My 12 year old preteen and her friends talk about memes all the time. Can you explain memes please and let me in on the joke! Lea, Belvedere

Dear Lea: Without sounding like a communications PhD, the word meme comes from Greek mimema, signifying something which is imaged. Memes have a tendency, like the times we live in, to go viral. Memes are pieces of cultural information that pass along from person to person, but gradually scale into a shared social phenomenon.

When people like you and me post on social media we are neither professional journalists nor story tellers. We need to create content that is simple, entertaining, and attention grabbing. And, the words and graphics need to be bite-sized, like our smartphones. Once we post, there are few social constraints: sometimes we don’t know, and sometimes we don’t care if the content is offensive or misinterpreted.

Inside Jokes?

During an earlier time of TV and newspapers, content was transmitted from ONE (the media corporation) to MANY (the public). The Internet flips that equation. There is a price for that: content is now fast, free and uncensored. Think of it like playing an old-fashioned game of ‘telephone’; the original message morphs over time and through different oral speakers, often in funny ways.

For most teens, memes are probably a safe way to share ‘inside’ jokes. They are old enough to separate meme- talk from real-talk. This is important because a lot of content does seem to me to condone aggression, bullying, taking drugs and alcohol, or being a smart-aleck.

What if we believe them?

I have two worries: one is that younger children who are not old enough to comprehend the subtlety will come to view the adult-world with cynicism and disrespect. Take, for example, the bizarro memes about Bert and Ernie. Today’s kids don’t watch Sesame Street so they just see puppet figures talking trash. On a broader level, I worry that the content treadmill will spiral even more outlandish, off-color memes in order to grab our increasingly jaded attention.

Like a virus that spreads without vaccines, there are limits to what you can do as a parent right now, except limit your kid’s exposure (i.e. time on the Internet). Perhaps ask your preteen to help you create a meme (disclaimer: this is not a recommendation for the site, just an example). Once your meme is posted, follow it with your daughter to see how often that message is remixed and shared. It may be one of the few things to enjoy that goes viral these days.