The Internet, where age is not a factor

Computers: Senior citizens are catching on to the World Wide Web, and finding out that a world of information and entertainment is only a mouse-click away.

May 23, 1999|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,special to the sun

Teens, make way. You may rule the Web now, but another crowd is coming on strong: Seniors.

More and more older adults are surfing these days -- using the Internet to do research, track investments and e-mail grandchildren.

Last year, 13 million people over age 50 in North America had computers, says Gregory Lewis, coordinator of special projects for SeniorNet, a nonprofit organization that provides older adults with education about and access to computers.

That number has nearly tripled in one year, making people over 50 one of the fastest growing groups of Internet users. "It's been a huge market surge," Lewis says.

Tumbling equipment prices, software that has made computers easier to use than ever, and the availability of the technology have brought more seniors to the net.

But one of the biggest hurdles many still face is anxiety about the unknown. "Don't be afraid," Lewis says. "Computers are not as difficult as they were in 1965." When seniors get the hang of manipulating the mouse, they are often are off and running, he says.

Richard Doss, a retired physician and resident of the Broadmead Continuing Care Retirement Community in Cockeysville, understands that for those who have never used computers, to buy one, set it up and get started surfing is "overwhelming."

Around the retirement community, he's known for his techno-savvy, and is often recruited to help others with computer problems or research. "I look upon the Internet as a great big library, and I've always wandered up and down the shelves," he says.

He appreciates being able to e-mail friends all over the world and enjoys reading newspapers online, especially the New York Times. "I ran across a piece in the New York Times I thought my son might like," he says, "and I just made an attachment and sent it."

Valerie Silk, 65, is a weather buff who watches tornadoes and floods from the safety of her monitor. She has a Web site for a weather station in Antarctica bookmarked, "which sends you a picture of what it's like down there."

She also likes to research world events and financial information. After she retired to Salisbury two years ago, Silk enrolled in computer classes for seniors at the War-Wic Community College. A former clerical manager for the Baltimore County Public Library, she took sessions on the Internet, e-mail and computer programming.

Margo Garner, 83, who lives at Vantage House, a lifecare community in Columbia, uses the Internet to track bills in the legislature that might affect housing communities like hers. She also prepares reports for the League of Women Voters.

She hasn't been on the Internet recently because she just bought a new computer. "I've been spending my time learning the difference between Windows 3.1 and Windows 98," says Garner. When she gets back online, she plans to research genealogy, and she's getting her friend and neighbor, Jean Brunstetter, 71, interested in the subject as well.

Computing comes easy to Brunstetter. As a specialist for the Community College of Baltimore's Catonsville Campus, she works part time helping students do research on the net. She depends on e-mail to stay in touch with her son in California and friends in England and Anne Arundel County.

She also serves on a Y2K committee that is making sure the possible computer glitch at the end of the year won't affect where they live. The committee brainstorms about any part of the operation that might be affected by Y2K.

Their conclusion so far? If BGE is OK, then they will be, too.

Getting started

Tips to get seniors started with computers:

1. Position your computer so it's comfortable. Keep the mouse at the same level as the keyboard to minimize arm strain. Monitors should be a comfortable viewing distance away -- usually 20-24 inches.

2. Consider a class. Many are available through community colleges, computers stores or libraries.

3. Most computers now come with built-in tutorials to talk you through getting started.

4. Practice by browsing through various sites. Or ask a relative, friend or neighbor -- people love to be helpful.

5. To avoid frustration, don't work when tired or in a rush.

Just browsing

Here are some Web sites that may appeal to seniors: -- The American Association of Retired Persons Web site has a lot of information of interest to seniors. -- A starting point for seniors using computers, selected as one of the top 100 sites by PC Magazine. -- Information on health from the experts at Johns Hopkins, with links to other major health sites. -- The Baltimore County Public Library site offers a variety of information -- just like what you'd find, well, in a library.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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