Despite having a computer in the home at several points in her life, my mother still doesn’t “get” them. First we had a Commodore 64 in the ’80s, then a PC in the early ’90s. Truth told, however, it was me using them, not my mom. So when in 2007 I gave her a Windows-based computer I had built earlier in the decade, she still reacted as if an alien had been invited into the house.
“You’re going to have to write down every step to using this,” she told me, “because I’ll never be able to remember it all. It’s just too confusing.”
I patiently wrote down the basics and walked my mom through it. Today she has a newer computer and can more or less check her e-mail, search for gardening information online, and make sure her anti-virus program is still updated. She’s still far from being comfortable with it, but through education and a bit of trial and error, she’s slowly becoming more technologically savvy.
Millions of Baby Boomers, now beginning to turn 65, have found themselves in similar situations. And while some of them may have minor experience with the technology so many of us take for granted today, others struggle to even understand the basic vocabulary — words like Google, download, and URL — associated with our tech world.
“Those are terms you think everyone would know, but you have to sit down and explain them,” Patrick Bolidoro, a tech tutor, told the Los Angeles Times’ Tina Susman.
Bolidoro is a student at New York’s Pace University, earning credits participating in a “gerontechnology program” designed to help seniors tackle the technology problem. The program, while unique in its own right as a university outreach effort, certainly isn’t an isolated one, however. From elementary schools to libraries, tech training programs continue to sprout up as seniors from all walks of life want to learn more about the rapidly changing tech world around them. Whether it’s a class at the local library on finding jobs online or a three-day seminar for seniors to learn the Internet, those without computer experience are finding opportunities to learn.
But what’s driving Baby Boomers to willingly try such classes? As journalist Susan Shelly demonstrates in a recent piece for Reading Eagle, while some seniors aren’t as excited about learning the ‘net as others, there’s a fundamental feeling of being “a bit isolated and left out of society as more and more of it revolves around technology.”
This feeling continues to drive many to learn how to better integrate technology into their lives. Shelly references how Nancy Dettra, 80, has grown fond of using Skype to video chat with her grandsons, who are studying abroad. Then there’s Carl Bloss, 78, who uses the Internet to research and share genealogy information. Yet amidst the optimism and excitement many seniors have about slowly feeling more connected and less isolated, a nagging concern remains about how well versed they are in protecting themselves online, especially from online criminals attempting to prey on the elderly.
“Criminals understand that seniors are from a different generation,” Dublin, California police Detective Alan Dumatol told The Oakland Tribune. “They’re a lot more trusting. They are vulnerable because they can be isolated socially, and seniors don’t always report being victims because they’re either embarrassed or afraid.”
Of course, such words shouldn’t be meant as scare tactics; we shouldn’t be trying to drive seniors away from tech learning. Rather, educators should stress the benefits and joys of technology and the Internet while at the same time being realistic about the risks any person may face while utilizing them. Such a balanced approach to teaching seniors about technology and Internet safety should in theory promote an even greater interest in the tech that enhances the lives of people from all walks of life. And in the end, seniors may very well feel more connected to others in their lives.
“My children look at me differently,” Roz Carlin, 93, told Susman after completing Pace University’s tech education program. “I feel like one of them, and they treat me like one of them too.”
Photo via Knight Foundation, Flickr Creative Commons
Back in March 2010, Learn the Net posted an article about internet activism, stating that despite criticism, e-activism “isn’t going to disappear.” The closing line of that article was: “Often it takes more than a few words on a blog or an e-mail to make a difference, but it’s a positive start.”
Fast forward a bit to December 2011, which saw a bitter debate erupt around the world over concerns that proposed U.S. legislation would potentially put too much power into the hands of the U.S. government to censor the Internet and bring many information sharing sites to a swift end. That legislation was introduced as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate.
The ruckus culminated in a massive Internet-based “blackout” on January 18, one that saw thousands of websites go dark in protest of the legislation. In fact, over 75,000 websites participated in a blackout through SOPA Strike, one of many online activists groups that tried to rally people to protest.
Many people were surprised to see the likes of Wikipedia, Google, and Craigslist either go dark or include website content that made users keenly aware something was not right. Many even stated they didn’t know what SOPA and PIPA were until they visited websites participating in the online protest, if nothing else proving that awareness was raised by the event. And Internet users shouldn’t be surprised to see similar actions (though perhaps on a lesser scale) in the future.
“Technology has grown as a part of our lives, and the companies now have something of value that they can withhold in terms of services, which is a shift in the overall political landscape,” Colin Gillis, a technology analyst at BGC Financial, told the L.A. Times. “Is this spawning a new level of activism? I’d say absolutely yes.”
While citizens continue to find new and interesting ways to better protest using the Internet and technology, it’s worth noting this “new level of activism” seen last week didn’t exclusively take place on the Internet. Protesters wrote letters to, called to, and even visited the offices of their representatives, frequently doing so on multiple occasions over a prolonged period of time dating back to 2011. Activists even pulled together to participate in rallies in San Francisco, New York, and other major U.S. cities, adding an additional discontented presence to the masses. Two days later, voting actions on the SOPA and PIPA bills were postponed indefinitely by House and Senate leaders for further discussion.
While it’s easy to argue whether or not this is truly an end to the legislation, what’s difficult to argue about is the role the Internet itself played in bringing the votes to a halt. Not only did activists use the Internet as a tool, but they also were essentially fighting for their right to continue to protest online without fear of having their voices censored. And while last week’s blackout wasn’t the first time hundreds of thousands of people have took to the Web during times of dissent, the blackout stands out as a sort of “high water mark” for what can be accomplished using the Internet.
It may be a while before we see online activism in such capacity again, but be certain that it will happen. As the concept of social networking continues to change and draw in new Internet users, new methods of bringing information to people from all walks of life will certainly appear. Additionally, as an increasing amount of business is performed and information is exchanged over the Web, look for online businesses and other entities to become more vocal, using their clout to help shift political and social thought. With them will come a continuing evolution in how people communicate, learn, and protest.
Photo via mangtronix, Flickr Creative Commons