Surf's Up for Seniors
Several years ago I encouraged my parents, both in their 70s, to get
their first computer. They emphatically refused, saying that they had
absolutely no interest in such modern gadgets. Undeterred by their
resistance, I brazenly took a computer to their house, connected it, and
then paid a Furman University student to begin tutoring them in its
Within a month, they were addicted. Hour after hour, day after
day, they were online, exploring the infinite resources of the Web,
unleashing a barrage of e-mail messages to family and friends, and
playing computer games into the wee hours of the night.
father, a retired advertising executive, decided he needed more
processing speed, so he bought a more powerful PC system, complete with
speakers and CD hookup. The only downside to my parents being
octogenarian computer geeks is that they are so often online that it is
impossible to reach them by phone.
I shouldn't have been
surprised. Amid all the hype associated with the Internet revolution is a
development of surprising scope and significance: the fastest growing
group of computer users is not children or young adult members of
Generation X. It is senior citizens.
Older Americans are
embracing the Internet with the enthusiasm of teen-agers. Millions of
retirees are booting up, logging on, and surfing the Web. The number of
older citizens going on line is expected to increase from about 14
million today to 27 million by 2003. Seniors are online more hours per
week at home than any other age group. In light of such trends, new
retirement communities are wiring their centers and installing computers
with Internet access.
To many senior citizens, though, the
Internet is more than a hobby or an inexpensive way to keep in touch
with their children and grandchildren. For people in their golden years
who may be lonely, isolated, or limited in their mobility by health
problems, a computer and the Internet offer an enticing window to a new
world that is both interactive and enlightening. Seniors can join online
book clubs, participate in discussion groups, read hometown newspapers,
reconnect with military units or college friends, learn about medical
issues and prescription medicines, take college courses, and make new
Entrepreneurs are creating Web sites to attract
older consumers. One of the most popular sites is SeniorNet.com, which
hosts chat rooms and more than 400 discussion groups with 45 book clubs.
Its more than 38,000 members may participate in virtual walking clubs
or in discussions covering such topics as genealogy, cooking, World War
II, gardening, pets and politics.
Other organizations are
helping retirees become computer literate. Furman University, for
example, offers a Learning in Retirement (FULIR) program that provides
several computer courses each term-fall, winter, and spring. These
popular courses are almost always full and range from Beginning
Computers for the Terrified to various advanced level courses.
demand for computer instruction among the chronologically advanced is
only going to increase. Technological innovations directed at older Web
users, such as larger screens and arthritic-friendly mouses and
touchpads, are rapidly closing the digital divide between the older and
Of course, the Internet can never replace a
personal visit or a warm hug. But it can help re-ignite a passion for
learning and interaction. "The Web has the potential to transform the
entire experience of aging," says Hugh O'Connor, director of the
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Research Information
Center. "We are just starting to understand the implications, but it's
already clear that the Internet can stimulate independent living among
To be sure, many older Americans still balk at the
expense and complexity of computers. Some of them suffer from "computer
psychosis," a fear of new technologies. But as my parents have proven,
it is a fear that is easily overcome.
So if you are a senior
citizen who spends most of the day watching television, get off the
couch and onto the computer. Get connected! A whole new world of ideas
and connections awaits in cyberspace to excite your curiosity, boost
your spirits, and extend your life. Happy surfing.