Tag Archives: Zoom

SMORES: Staples Students Help Seniors Tackle Technology

The reopening of the Senior Center on July 1 is good news for hundreds of Westporters. For over 15 months they have missed the classes, lectures and social events that were so meaningful and fun.

It’s good news too for all those seniors who need help learning a new electronic device, figuring out how to Zoom, or otherwise coping with the digital world.

Before the pandemic, they got help in person from teenagers. A dozen Staples High School students were part of SMORES (Social Media Outreach Educators), a group started by Jake Motyl.

SMORES members and their “students,” at the Senior Center before the pandemic.

The coronavirus forced them all online. It was not easy teaching someone unfamiliar with a tablet or phone how to use it remotely, but both the teens and their “students” persevered.

Earlier this month, Jake graduated from Staples. This fall, he heads to the University of Southern California.

But SMORES is stronger than ever. The new leader is his sister, rising junior Caroline Motyl.

She’s been Jake’s vice president since freshman year. She shares his enthusiasm for helping older Westporters. In fact, it’s one of her passions.

Caroline Motyl

“I’m pretty active in social justice — racism, sexism, environmentalism,” she says. “But people don’t usually talk about ageism. A lot of people look down on older people. They think they’re not in touch.”

Caroline admits that she’s sometimes guilty herself. “When my mom can’t post on Instagram, I’m like, ‘Come on!’ She says, ‘I didn’t grow up with this. You did.’ I’m trying really hard to prevent myself and others from being like that.”

Through SMORES, Caroline has learned to look at perspectives different from her own. “It’s so easy for me to use a cellphone. My generation does it so fast. We do everything fast. But that’s not the case for older generations. They do things more slowly.”

The importance of “non-digital natives” navigating the complex universe of devices, social media, printers and routers was driven home last Thanksgiving. Caroline helped a woman set up her iPad, so she could Zoom with family members.

“That’s such an important holiday. It meant so much to her to be together, even just on Zoom,” Caroline says.

She looks forward to helping, live, again. “I thought online school was hard. But trying to help someone use a phone while actually n the phone was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I couldn’t point to something, or touch the screen. But it’s so important for them to feel connected. Somehow we did it.”

In 8th grade science class, Caroline had to write detailed instructions on how she made a Lego structure. This year, she hopes to use that concept to create step-by-step instructions for some of the most frequently asked questions.

“So many other countries treat older people with the utmost respect,” Caroline notes. “Our country does not treat them as we should.”

She and her fellow SMORES members are trying to change that. One cellphone, tablet and laptop at a time.

(For more information or help, text Caroline at 203-644-7749, or call the Senior Center: 203-341-5099.)

Unsung Hero #145

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

Although the entire staff at the Senior Center should be recognized for their support during the pandemic, I would like to recognize one individual who has assisted many of us seniors on how to participate in the new online Senior Center programs. While doing that, he has also called seniors just to chat and ask about our health.

When COVID-19 struck, the Senior Center made over 30 programs available online. They range from yoga, tai chi, qigong and exercise classes to French language, current events, religion class and studio art.

To take an online class a participant needs a computer, email address and internet access. But having those resources means nothing, unless you know how to use them.

Jason Wilson, in a Zoom meeting.

Jason joined the Center full time last July, as assistant program manager. He has made it his mission to help seniors — and instructors — learn new technology skills.

When I had a problem accessing Zoom for one of my wife’s classes, Jason helped. He remained online to make sure no one else had any problems.

We should all be thankful to the entire staff at the Senior Center, including director Susan Pfister  and program manager Holly Betts. The doors may be closed, by Jason is helpful — and the staff provides phone coverage Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

David Pogue Zooms In On Westport

David Pogue does it all.

Our Westport neighbor is an Emmy- and Webby-winning tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”).

Those are big companies. David is the first to admit that, as creative and inspired as is, he’s got tons of production firepower behind him.

Until this month, that is. COVID-19 has made mincemeat of modern media. Rachel Maddow talk to US senators via Skype. Anderson Cooper broadcasts from home.

As for David — well, let him tell his tale.

Yesterday, “CBS Sunday Morning” aired my cover story: How to work and live at home without losing your mind.

Here’s the problem: CBS News is locked down. Nobody can get into New York City headquarters. No camera crews are available, and no travel is permitted for making stories.

So I proposed something radical: I’d write, shoot, perform and edit this entire piece at home in Westport.

David Pogue at work in Westport, long before the coronavirus.

Dan asked if I’d reveal a bit more about how the whole thing came together, for “06880.” Happy to comply!

First of all, it’s incredibly easy these days to shoot and record video that’s good enough for TV. All you need is a cheap flat-panel LED light, a digital camera, and a wireless mike.

A big chunk of my story was an introduction to Zoom, the video-chatting program that’s become a hero of the coronavirus crisis. It’s free and easy to use; the video’s very stable; it can accommodate up to 100 people on screen at once —and you can record the video meeting with a single click.

To demonstrate the possibilities, my producer arranged a historic first: All of “CBS Sunday Morning’s” correspondents on the screen simultaneously in a Zoom video. Even Jane Pauley, our host!

There’s David: top row, 2nd from left.

It was supposed to be a 5-minute deal. But it was so much fun, the call went on for over an hour. Even though we’re on the show week after week, most of us rarely meet in person.

(I’ll spare you the story of how the resulting huge video file somehow got corrupted and wasn’t openable … and how, panicking, I hunted down a Zoom PR person at midnight, who wrangled a company engineer into rescuing the file just in time for the broadcast.)

In my script I cited a new rule for the videochat era: Informal is the new normal. You’ll see kids, pets and untidy backgrounds in your video calls — and that’s all allowed now.

Imagine my delight and amusement then, when I interviewed neuropsychologist Sanam Hazeez — and in the middle, her twin 5-year-old boys burst into her office, crying. One had driven a truck over the other’s foot. (To be clear, it was a toy truck.) It was completely unplanned — but could not have made my point any better.

Well, except when Wilbur the Wonder Cat started pacing back and forth in front of my laptop camera during the interview.

Sheltering in place doesn’t mean you’re not allowed out of the house. My 3 kids are all home, of course. I corralled one of them into taking a walk with me beside the Bedford Middle School field, and another to pilot a Mavic Mini drone to film the scene. It came out great!

As it turns out, it’s even safe to meet friends face to face, as long as you maintain a decent distance. In hopes of finding examples to film, I posted a note on NextDoor.com. It’s kind of like a Facebook for neighborhoods, like Eastern Westport or whatever. (If you haven’t joined, you should. It’s free.)

Usually, NextDoor is full of lost-dog notices and “Can you recommend a plumber?” posts. But during the crisis it offers great social-distancing ideas, invitations to virtual gatherings, even a Help Map where you can see who needs errands or groceries, and you can volunteer.

My query led me first to a group of young women, all sent home from college, who gather in the parking lot of Weston Middle School, where they had been together years ago. They park their cars in a circle, sit on their trunks, 15 feet apart, and just hang out. It’s glorious. I filmed it from overhead, with my drone.

I also heard from Westport Library fundraiser Barbara Durham, who lives in an apartment building in Bridgeport. She told me that some evenings she gathers with her neighbors across the elevator lobby, each pulling a chair into her apartment doorway, for “Cocktails in the Foyer.” I drove over to film one of these wonderful social-distance parties.

I love how the story came out. I’m grateful to everyone who helped, who allowed me to film them, and who believed in the idea. (That includes my bosses at “CBS Sunday Morning,” who took a leap of faith in trusting me to deliver a story they wouldn’t see until it was finished.)

Once we’re allowed to be close to each other again, I’ll thank you all in person —with a tender, heartfelt elbow bump.

But enough about David’s back story. Click below for his piece — and Westport and Weston’s contribution to surviving in our new work-at-home world.