The internet is often seen as a place where everyone in the world can be connected to each other.
With all the services the internet offers including search engines, email, instant messaging, and forums it seems there is something for everybody.
The reality is that not everyone is in the situation where they can simply buy a computer and access the internet.
Seniors are often perceived to be marginalised by the youth-orientated technology industry. In fact, despite the obstacles that deter some seniors from technology they are actually the fastest growing group purchasing and using computers.
According to Tony Lenn, from the Australian Seniors Computers Clubs Association, the internet and computers can be daunting for older seniors who haven’t grown up with exposure to technology.
It makes them a little apprehensive about getting started. But I think they realise that the internet is there and if they want to live in this world they have to get up-to-date. Most of them a fairly practical in that respect and they are only too keen to get going.
What initially deters some seniors from using computers and the internet?
The complexity, fear of the unknown is probably the main thing. They see computers as all ‘whizz-bang’ lights and whistles and lights and flashing things and they don’t know anything about it so it’s a little bit daunting at first.
What is the main motivation for seniors to start using the internet and computers?
It’s twofold. One is to find out information that is often referred to in other media and publications and on the television and probably the overriding reason is for communication with family and friends via email and the internet.
What are the most common tasks that seniors use their computers for?
Emails, internet browsing and searching for things on the internet. Researching family history and also for writing the memoirs their life stories, incidences they can recall just for posterity.
How does the way seniors use the internet differ from the way other groups do?
Very little. Except that we’re a little older and have a broader range of background to fall to. So I suppose that makes us a little special.
What do seniors value about online social interaction?
I think the biggest value is that they are able to communicate with others either by email, using internet telephones and so forth. It’s great to be able to get a quick response to a query or question or response from someone you’re trying to contact.
Are the things that seniors value about the internet different to the things that other age groups value?
No. I think they’re very common. It’s a basic human requirement I think rather than an age based thing.
Does the way seniors communicate over the internet differ from the way other age groups do?
Maybe the topics they look for. But the actual way they use it I don’t think varies very much. They’re not into MySpace and Facebook and things like that or they’re not so much into to downloading the latest pop tunes off one of the networks on to their iPod. But they use the internet as a communication tool which is exactly what it is.
Do they use the same type of language? Like the ‘lols’ and the shorthand that younger web users use?
Only if they are really into that scene. Generally they don’t. They tend to use longhand. Which is a bit old-fashioned I guess but at least people can understand what they are talking about. It’s hard for us older people to understand the language of the young people these days.
Do you think the internet offers a connection between the older generation and younger generations? Such as grandparents and grandchildren?
Yes that’s very important especially where there are distances between parts of the family. To be able to talk to them via the internet and see them over things like Skype and is a great bonus for everybody. A friend of mine has video conferences with her son and sees the grandchildren. The main advantage of that is that when she goes to visit the grandchildren know what she looks like.
How does online interaction benefit seniors?
It improves access and for seniors who have some sort of disability or who aren’t as mobile as the younger generation it allows them to get out an reach people much more easily without having to have the problems of physical distances.
Does online interaction change the way seniors interact in the real world?
Yes. It keeps them more up to date and better informed about what is going on in the community.
How can the internet and computers impact upon seniors lives?
It improves their communications to all parts of the community not just family also friends, colleagues and other social groups.
Although seniors are stereotyped as having little computer experience. The level of computing skills often varies depending on when they left the workforce. Some Younger seniors may have years of experience from their time in the workforce whilst some older female seniors may never had the opportunity to work at all.
Computing Clubs for seniors are a popular way for those interested in learning more about computers to do so with support from their peers. The Australian Seniors Computing Clubs Association is the parent body which individual clubs join.
The association connects the clubs to one another, seeks discounts for its members and communicates with relevant government agencies
Probably the biggest thing that seniors computing clubs do is provide training for seniors to help them keep up to date with what’s going on in the internet and technology. In that way it becomes a learning thing, a social thing and a retirement activity. It keeps them busy and keeps their minds active. Often people with more experience join us as trainers where they can pass their information on to other members of the community who don’t have those skills.
Do you think that the fact that trainers are in their peer group helps them learn and appreciate the technology?
Absolutely, because they are working at the level that seniors work at. We’ve had seniors go to more vocational type courses to try and learn computing ant they say it’s useless because the young people are there and they go a thousand miles an hour and the older people have to try and keep up because the teacher just goes with the majority of the class and the older generation is left out. So by having someone of their own generation work at their own speed is a big plus.
What other ways can seniors improve their computer skills?
By participating in computer related activities. The Australian Seniors Computing Clubs are run by seniors on a voluntary basis and we keep the costs down to a minimum so we are able to provide access to many seniors particularly pensioners who would not be able to afford that sort of facility.
Other places where seniors can find support on the internet are sites dedicated to older internet users
GreyPath is an online community created and managed by seniors. The site allows people from all over the world to engage with each other through forums, online chat, Blogging, and email pals.
Besides its social networking uses the site also gives its members access to free-courses which they can complete online.
One course provided by the site is an introduction to computers and the internet which allows seniors to learn at there own pace.
The founder and CEO of Greypath, Ray Lewis, believes that websites aimed at seniors offer many attractions including the opportunity for seniors to connect with their peers from all over the world
We’re developing a pretty substantial world reach. People from 40 countries visited us over the last couple of weeks. That’s always interesting when you catch up with them. Generally speaking word of mouth is keeping the site growing pretty substantially and with got lots of new offering coming. One of the biggest things we hope to do is rebuild our 3D senior’s community a version of Sim Life but more leaning towards seniors.
Do you think that seniors are looking for something different to the social networking sites already on offer?
I think the initial motivation is about 65% social. But we seniors are becoming rapidly more sophisticated in our expectation of the internet and the sort of internet supermarket that GreyPath has become has tangible value for us now. With 1800 visits a day and growing new members at about 5-15 new members each day. I think it supports the idea of a greater need then just simple networking. I do a lot more video on the site these days as a result of reflecting on what seniors want over the last five or six years. We’re now providing routine video editing tutorials. The profile of site visitors is that 50% are between sixty and seventy and 25% sit on either side of that.
How does GreyPath differ from sites aimed at any age group?
Many of our members are non computer literate whilst most other age groups are computer literate. We try and take special care in a non patronising way to coax people along slowly and avoid jargon. Many have to consciously think of the new meanings of words such as program, application, and accessories. For them accessories means bangles and bags. They have to learn the new meanings of these, plus words such as bandwidth and even words like mouse. It’s a new and unnatural medium to begin with. It’s non intuitive at ones first exposure so we have to keep that in mind with the site design.
As the size of the 55 plus age group increases the number of older people using the internet will also increase. Although many seniors have missed out on the opportunity to learn about computers at school or work There are many places that can help advise on the purchase of the right computer, and help those unfamiliar with the internet get started.
Contact the Australian Seniors Computing Clubs
On 02 92863871 or http://www.ascca.org.au/