By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Daniel Jones, owner of Daniel Teaches, has reached age 56.
Eleven years ago, when he launched his senior tech teaching gig, his senior students often called him “that nice young man who helps older folks with their computers.”
Now that he has a few gray hairs on his head and beard, he’s not described as a “young man” as much anymore, but closer to a peer with his clients.
“I think my age definitely helps,” Jones said. “It helps in being more relatable with my demographic. The gray in my hair and beard helps.”
Previously an art director, Jones was going through a few major life changes 12 years ago. He moved to the Rochester area, went through a divorce and felt burned out in the advertising and design world. He had always wanted to work with older adults in some capacity.
After completing a 33-week certificate course in gerontology at St. John Fisher College, he realized what he could do: teach technology to older adults.
Although not an information technology expert by training, Jones realized that he knew more about technology than most 70-year-olds. He also possesses a large measure of patience. Both the know-how and patience would be necessary to teach tech to his clients.
He began teaching in a pilot program at the Maplewood YMCA’s Lily Café. For six months, he charged nothing to see if it would benefit clients. The classes took off and he began teaching at Fairport Baptist Homes and elsewhere, including giving private lessons.
He now offers 30 different seminars which he constantly updates with new content. Jones won’t fix clients’ technology, but he finds that oftentimes a “broken” iPhone has an unwanted setting or a user problem.
“Technology is hard for most people to understand in general, but my students are learning something for the very first time,” he said. “If you were teaching me to crochet a blanket, I wouldn’t get it the first time. It would take several times with lots of repetition. You have to be patient with yourself.”
Some functions or tasks on technology devices have several ways they can be done. However, if Jones teaches one way—usually the simplest—family members may have their own favorite way and wonder why their loved one learned the “wrong” way.
Another challenge is the generational nuances surrounding learning. Some of his clients attended school in an era when mistakes or learning more slowly was met with harsh criticism or punishment. He has learned to reassure clients that they may ask the same question as many times as they would like and he will not become upset. That part of his job is often the hardest for family members who show their parent one or two times, then become aggravated and do the task themselves instead of guiding their parent into the right way to do it.
Not initially understanding an aspect of technology has nothing to do with intelligence. Jones said that some male clients were business leaders, but always had secretaries to handle their technology needs. Now that they are retired, they want to learn how to use technology for themselves. Some female clients relied on their husbands for handling things like online bill paying and other technology uses. However, when their husbands pass away, they need to learn how.
“Yesterday, I met with a woman who just turned 80,” Jones said. “For her birthday, her brother got her a gift certificate for my services. She has a flip phone deliberately. She said, ‘I don’t want to be connected all the time. I don’t want to text. I don’t need to text.’ But her brother wants her to learn these things.”
He explained that sometimes, people benefit themselves when the older adult in their lives learns technology.
“It was eye-opening to her,” Jones said.
When he began Daniel Teaches, most students needed to learn how to use the internet and email. Most lacked basic computer skills. Now, most need help in learning smartphone use and apps so they can keep up with their children and grandchildren. Others need help in learning how to use their smart TVs and streaming services. It may seem like Jones will work himself out of a job, but so far, he still has plenty of clients.
“Hopefully, as long as I stay relevant, I don’t see myself ever being able to retire,” Jones said. “I’m hoping I’m teaching when I’m 75 and maybe I’ll be even more relatable. But I’ve got to keep up with everything.”