Shawn Douglas

Thursday - May 10, 2012

Seniors and the InternetDespite 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