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NAT SOUND: Pool room: “There ya go!”
Larry Smith, a regular at the South Side Senior Center, is watching two of his buddies shoot some pool. He’s what’s referred to as a “wired senior:” he uses the internet for email, online banking, geneology, and online games.
“It’s helped me to stay in contact with different people. Especially with facebook now…family members will comment that they’re going to do something, and it will be pinned right to me directly. I pick up on it, and it tells me what they’re gonna be doing,” he said.
His brother talked him into getting online a decade ago. He says the internet helps him keep in touch with his family, and see pictures of grandkids. For example, he found out through his facebook page that his two daughters in Phoenix had decided to take a trip to Illinois.
Given his age, he’s definitely in the minority of internet users.
According to the Pew Research Center, senior citizens comprise about 13% of the US Population, but just 4% of the US Internet population.
Smith says has a theory of why many seniors are hesitant to get “wired.”
“They’re scared of it,” he says. He adds that they probably haven’t progressed with technology over the years.
Out in the lunchroom of the senior center, we find one person who wasn’t at all scared of it: Karen Denny.
“I use it for my email, for facebook, banking, looking up health information, or lately I’ve been using it to look up patterns for knitting,” said Denny.
She was introduced to the internet when she was still working as a customer service rep. She decided to buy a computer for herself. Now she pays her bills online.
She says it’s given her a sense of independence.
B.J. Vernon will be 81 in May; today, this Christian pastor is having lunch with his wife. They live on the east edge of Willard. He says he’s asked about getting high-speed internet but has been told it won’t be available there for awhile. So, he’s stuck with a slower, dial-up modem.
“I think they said by the year 2013!” he says. “He’ll probably be gone by then,” his wife added, laughing.
He says it may be true that some seniors are afraid of trying something new, but others who would like to get online don’t because of the cost. A new computer, and internet services aren’t always cheap.
And then there’s the danger of personal information being used in the wrong way, he says. He knows that seniors are targeted by scammers.
“On my computer, and on the internet, too, if it’s from somebody I don’t know, I don’t even respond to it,” he said.
The administrator of the South Side Senior Center is Lilly Strain.
“They are set in their ways. They prefer to use a phone talking to somebody rather than emailing them,” Strain said.
Take Jackie, for example. She keeps in touch with her four kids and her grandkids with her cell phone.
“I don’t think you can teach an old dog new tricks,” she said.
She says she’s also afraid she might accidentally break the computer, or delete something important—common fears of seniors who don’t use the internet.
One person who says she’s seen both worlds is Kay. She used to be on the internet when she lived in Florida. But when she moved to Springfield three years ago, she intentionally didn’t hook up her computer up to the web.
“I know from my own experience that when I was on the internet, I didn’t seek out face-to-face conversations with people,” Kay said.
She says she’s concerned that the younger generation is losing the art of communicating in more personal ways.
“Because when you look at someone face-to-face, you get so much more than just words,” she said.
She comes here three times a week to socialize. She has 12 grandchildren whom she used to email.
“I kind of miss that. But on the other hand, I’ll find that I’ll spend more time on the phone with them. At least I’ll hear their voices,” she says.
She says getting off the internet has allowed her to be more social.
Shonda Dill teaches seniors, and others, how to use the internet at the Midtown Carnegie Branch of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. The library’s program called “The Edge” offers free classes ranging from “Meet the Computer”--which starts from the very beginning, like “What is a Mouse?”--to surfing the internet and browsing senior sites like Medicare.
“We’ve had people comment that they’re afraid to come in because they don’t want to be shown up by a bunch of young kids,” she says.
She says the library district has set aside Wednesdays to focus on seniors.
“It’s wonderful when you’re teaching seniors and they ‘get it.’ They understand, and they go, ‘Oh! I didn’t know this was what this was all about,’” she said.
Dill says the best way to learn more about the free classes is to get a schedule of “The Edge” at any public library branch, or by calling 837-5011.
The Pew Research Center says that among those seniors who are connected to the internet, the vast majority of them are educated, or wealthy. Lucky for everyone else, the local classes offered at the public library are free.
Join us Thursday afternoon at 4:30 as our Sense of Community Series on Aging continues: we’ll be looking at the science behind why keeping your brain active can delay the onset or severity of dementia.
I’m Jennifer Moore.