Seniors go on-line for friends, romance

September 02, 1992|By Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- When Jessie Askew joined SeniorNet, she was simply looking for computer companionship, a way to stay mentally active, maybe an answer to her software problems.

She found more.

"There's a gentleman who writes me poetry," says Ms. Askew, a widow who lives in Krum, Texas. "We have a romance going. I've met him; he's been to visit. I guess you could say we're engaged."

Ms. Askew, 55, is one of 5,000 SeniorNet members -- average age, 68 -- across the United States, Canada and New Zealand. The organization began as a way to teach computer skills to adults. Now, across the United States, there are 40 SeniorNet Learning Centers, where adults 55 and older can learn how to use the computer.

"This is an affirmation that we in the older-age category are not sitting by waiting for the world to go by," says Fran Middleton, SeniorNet consultant.

Another aspect of the organization is SeniorNet Online. Members -- who must be over 55 -- can "talk" to each other via computer.

Ms. Askew met her future husband through the "live chats" part of Online. Every evening, 15 to 20 members sit at computers across the country and share conversation.

"It's like cocktail parties," Ms. Middleton says. "Everyone can talk at once. You watch for threads of your conversation."

Other times, the conferences are more formal. A group of veterinarians comes on-line monthly to answer questions about pets. Sunday afternoon time is devoted to newcomers.

There also are "folders" of various topics -- politics, pet care, gay and lesbian issues. People post messages and others answer.

Some seniors exchange ideas and problems about caring for their parents. One woman in New Jersey, whose husband is going blind and whose blind mother-in-law lives with them half the year, uses SeniorNet as a release.

"She doesn't get out often," Ms. Middleton says, "and she still finds members out here on-line. It's her way of getting out of the house."

According to statistics gathered by SeniorNet, Americans over 65 will grow from 13 percent of the population in 2000 to 21.8 percent in 2030. Now more than 9 percent of households headed by someone 60 to 69 years old have a computer. More than half of consumers over age 50 are interested in trying new technologies and products. Seventy percent of people over 60 believe the key to retirement is staying busy.

Ms. Askew isn't retired, but she became interested in computers to stay mentally active.

"We want to be part of the new generation," says Ms. Askew, an engineering clerk in the telephone industry.

Annual membership in SeniorNet costs $25, plus $9.95 monthly for SeniorNet Online. For more information, call (415) 750-5030.

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