'E-mail Is The Greatest'

January 20, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

As Parris N. Glendening was being inaugurated in Annapolis, Genevieve German composed a message for the new governor at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

"My hearty congratulations on your election and good luck and God bless in your new duties. P.S. E-mail is the greatest," she wrote.

Her greeting was not a pen-and-paper affair -- it traveled through the retirement community's computer system and onto the Internet -- as she and 20 other residents learned the ins and outs of electronic mail.

"The whole thing is mind-boggling . . . to think you can send these messages to anywhere in the world," said Ms. German, who is "pushing 80" and plans to find people to communicate with electronically. "I love it. It's so exciting."

Her class on Wednesday was the third at Charlestown's 110-acre campus near Catonsville, one of the nation's largest retirement communities. The facility went on-line three weeks ago with a computer room and e-mail connection funded by Charlestown for its residents.

It provides the seniors with e-mail addresses, a link to the Internet and direct communication with a Michigan retirement community owned by Charlestown's developer, Senior Campus Living. When the company's new center in Perry Hall opens in March, it will be connected, too.

In an earlier lesson, students sent electronic mail to President Clinton -- and received generic electronic responses.

On Wednesday they sent mail for the new governor to a member of Mr. Glendening's transition team -- since the State House itself is not on-line yet. Their messages will be forwarded to the governor, said Harry Kozlovsky, the Charlestown computer administrator who teaches the 1 1/2 -hour class.

When asked if he thought he'd get a personal answer, Harold Shadeline, 81, said, "I doubt it, as busy as he is. His staff will get it, which I think sometimes is just as important."

Equally important, Mr. Kozlovsky said, is the channel of communication now open to the center's elderly residents, spanning generations and helping them connect with children and grandchildren who have access to Internet e-mail.

"We devised this system to make it easy for the residents, at the same time giving them extreme power," he said.

Some of the seniors didn't know quite what to make of it. Although many class participants did have computer experience some used them at pre-retirement jobs or have one in their home -- a few were new to it.

Charles and Margaret Williams described themselves as "terrified" of computers -- until they saw how simple it was. They sat next to each other, marveling at what they could do with a few keystrokes.

"We sent it!" exclaimed Dr. Williams, 79, of the message he and his wife had written. "Now it's gone to the governor. Isn't that great?"

"We're still awed by it. It's really a remarkable thing," said Mrs. Williams, 76, who said they will use e-mail to contact their 21-year-old granddaughter, a nurse in Nepal, once they get her Internet address.

Dr. Williams said the couple has been paying to fax messages to their four children and 12 grandchildren.

"It doesn't cost anything to send a message on e-mail. It's free," Mrs. Williams said.

Residents took the opportunity to advise the new governor.

Rose Kanter asked that housing opportunities for seniors become a high priority. Frederick King asked Mr. Glendening to make Maryland a more business-friendly state, and Jack Bauman suggested the governor join him on the information superhighway.

"I also am hopeful that, in the very near future, your office will establish an e-mail address of your own," he wrote.

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