Computing for Seniors

Many seniors shy away from computers. Here are some insights on why seniors and computers should get together.
Published: Dec 8, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question submitted by Jack Gray, Bernadette Adams, Debbie Davis, Dan Young, Robert Fitzpatrick and numerous others

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who say there are two kinds of people, and those who don't. Computers have also split people into those who use them and those who don't. It is time for the latter group to get with the program. While it is perfectly acceptable to have a rich and satisfying life without computers, it just seems silly at this point not to use them, like not turning on lights because you don't understand electricity. It seems like young people know all about the things, but some older folks steer clear of them. Many people are intimidated by computers, viewing them as complicated devices with many pitfalls that require endless hours of attention and great typing skills. In actuality a computer is merely a tool like a hammer or a toaster. We use tools to make our lives better or easier. A toaster makes delicious toast. We don't care how it works. We put the bread in and after a moment we have toast.

That's how tools should work, and increasingly computers are working that way. While the techie-geeks hated AOL members crowding the Internet when it started up, AOL has probably done the most to get the average person over the fear of computing and Web surfing. They did it by making the task more important than the tool. If you wanted to send mail, it was easy. You didn't have to set up anything special. If you wanted your weather you could just click to get it. No long Web addresses to remember. Stock prices? Same thing. AOL turned computers into toasters.

There are many things seniors can use computers for. SeniorNet suggest writing memoirs, tracing genealogy, starting a home business, planning finances, managing investments and banking, surfing the Internet, peer counseling, monitoring health and homes, and keeping up with the grandkids. Even these are a bit daunting if you don't know where to start.

So let's start with the last one. If your kids live somewhere else, the Internet is a great way to not only see your grandchildren grow up, but also to interact with them in a fun way that will engage them and make you seem cool in their eyes. Get your kids to set up a Web site with plenty of updated pictures. All you'll have to do is view that Web site in a browser. Once you have put it in your favorite places you don't even need to type anything. Just point and click with the mouse.

If your kids want to get fancy they can even put recordings of the grandkids' voices and videos on their family Web site. Again all you would have to do is click to see and hear them.

E-mail is one of the greatest innovations of the modern age – if the people you know also use e-mail. The beauty of it is that you can write something brief, and it is immediate. Heavy computer users have e-mail conversations, sending short messages back and forth several times a day. Others check once a week, answering when they get a moment. It is a wonderful way to keep in touch with children and grandchildren because younger people love computers and will be motivated to write to you often if they get mail from you.

Then there's shopping. Go to a shopping site and you are likely to get more information about a product than you would in a store. On top of that Web sites often have better deals because they have less overhead than a brick and mortar store. Finally, your purchases are delivered to your door. How great is that?!

In Western countries, including e United States, computer use by people above about 50 is in the 20% range. Ninety percent of U.S. teenagers use computers and 60% of people between 10 and 50 years old in the United States use computers. According to a SeniorNet study conducted in 1996, three times the number of adults over 55 owned microwaves than owned computers. While the gap is probably smaller now, plenty of older adults still fear computers or profess to have no interest them.

The thing is that if you ever get to e point where mobility is an issue, the computer could become your window to the world. Shopping, games, contact with friends and family are all possible with an Internet connection and a modest computer. Learning some basic things you like to do is an investment in the future when you may depend on the machine to keep the texture of your life rich and varied.

There is little you can do to hurt it unless you get so frustrated you throw it out the window. If you are not a great typist you will find you can do many things with a mouse. The thing to do to get started is to identify something you like to do and just do that.

People sometimes think they have to learn about everything a new tool can do all at once. You don't. Computers can do a lot of things, but what you want to do is all that really matters. Besides, once you get over computerphobia the gadget is fun!

I'd like to thank Jack Gray, Bernadette Adams, Debbie Davis, Dan Young, Robert Fitzpatrick and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on any technology topic that you'd like someone to tell you about, you can submit it via e-mail by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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