The Best of…Seniors to Become Computer Savvy

           Published June  11, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           More than 50 years ago, Richard Walton received a Smith Corona portable typewriter from his parents for his 21st birthday.   Over the years the journalist and writer Walton, now age 73, touched typed eleven books on that bulky machine.  From his college days in the late forties until the early 1990s, he continued to use the antique typewriter.                 

         Today Walton has gone through three computers, his present system is a Compaq Presario, Model 7470.  “It pretty much has all the bells and whistles,” Walton says.  As a journalist he loves his computer because “you don’t have to retype entire pages.”  With his Smith Corona, any typos forced him to retype entire pages.   Now paragraphs can be moved around with ease, to view and change before the final draft.

         Walton gets other bennies from using new computer technology.  “I communicate with people everywhere using e-mail” he say,noting that when he needs to research topics for his articles its simple, just cruise the World Wide Web.

       Walton is one of growing number of seniors who are using the computer to keep in touch with family and friends, word processing documents, keeping the checkbook, making electronic purchases for a vast variety of items, from books, drugstore purchases to travel packages.  Seniors can also tap into this evolving technology to research and buy stocks and to do their banking and pay their bills. 

      Stacy Dieter, vice president of Business Development for SeniorNet, a nonprofit San Francisco-based company that teaches seniors to use computers and the internet, calls seniors “savvy” when it comes to operating computers.  “May be younger people are more use to maneuvering the mouse, but seniors can quickly pick up how the use the computer technology,” she says.

      Older adults are the fastest growing audience online, Dieter tells The Times.   According to Jupiter Communications, Dieter notes that by the year 2003, it is estimated that 27.3 million people over age 50 years old will be using the Internet regularly.”

       Adds Dieter, computer ownership is also slowly increasing too.   A SeniorNet and Charles Schwab & Company 1998 market research study found that 40 percent of all seniors now own a computer at home compared with 29 percent in 1995.  Meanwhile, seniors spend more time per month online (38 hours) than any other age group, with more than 83 percent making daily visits to the Internet, she says.

      Senior centers are also moving into the computer age by making computers more accessible to their older participants.   With assistance from the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA), a growing number of senior centers acrossRhode Islandare opening up computer labs. 

      With two Compaq computers provided by DEA, one donated by a Rhode Island  Dot.Com company, FindRI.Com, and one surplus City of Pawtucket computer, Joan Crawley, Director of Pawtucket’s Leon Mathius Senior Center, pieced together her equipment, bringing the computer age Pawtucket’s seniors.

        Beginning in June, a small multi-use room in the Senior Center, originally used for health promotion activities, was transformed into a computer lab.   The City of Pawtucket provided the expertise to install the computers with Internet access.

       “We’re in the organizational phase right now,”Crawley says, adding that her waiting list of seniors wanting to learn how to use computers and the Internet has grown to more than 30.

         Although Pawtucket’s Senior Center Director expects the computer lab to be up and running and courses taught by the fall, the computers are now available for use by those who are knowledgeable about their use.  Half and hour time slots will be made available to these individuals.

          Meanwhile, volunteer instructors are now being recruited to teach the basics (using computer’s key board and mouse) to learning computer software programs and how to surf the Internet.          “The perfect volunteer might be someone who has recently retired and wants to share their expertise,”Crawley says.  The more volunteers will allow the computer lab to have extended hours. .

          Why a computer lab?   “We want our seniors to use the Internet to look up information on health care, Social Security or even about Medicare. Crawley notes that a social worker will be available to assist the computer user in culling the needed information from the targeted web sites.

          Crawley adds, “Ultimately we would like to get an e-mail address so that seniors can talk to their love ones who live are far away.”  Additionally, she believes that savvy senior computer users can save money too, by not spending money for newspapers and magazine subscriptions.  They can just use the Internet to seek out information in hundreds of thousands of newspapers or magazines published around the world.

          By adding a computer lab to the Senior Center’s programming, “We’re very excited about bringing Pawtucket’s senior population into the 21st century,Crawley says gleefully.

          SeniorNet is the world’s largest trainer of adults over 50 on computer technology and the Internet with 220+ SeniorNet Learning Centers in 38 states as well as the best on-line community for older
adults at http://www.seniornet.org.

           Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health and medical care  This article appeared in June 11, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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