Surfing the Net
Overcoming the Fear of Computer Technology
By Laraine Jablon
Society of Certified Senior Advisors™ CSA Journal 43 • June 2009
Nana went online
shortly after her eightieth birthday. For her, this was another way to begin
a dialogue with her children and grandchildren. It was also another way to avoid
the volley of responses if she wasn’t in the mood. The delete button gave
her tremendous power. Nana, who was born in Russia, came to the United States
when she was four. An intelligent, fast-learner all her life, my elderly grandmother
became a true tsarina when seated on her throne in front of the computer. When
she was very young, the family nicknamed her the “Russian Jailer,”
which gives a sense of Nana’s fortitude and authority. Once computer savvy,
Nana knew no bounds. I was certain of one thing: Nana could fell an empire with
the click of a mouse.
Many older adults are not as confident as my grandmother was. They are not
computer savvy because they are paralyzed by fear—fear of not being intelligent
enough to learn new skills, fear of appearing to be ignorant, fear of failure,
fear of all things electronic, fear of blowing up the machine. According to
a recent study completed by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only
27 percent of seniors over the age of seventy-five use a computer. However,
although this is a low figure, it represents a 10 percent increase since 2005.
My grandmother was a member of this fast-growing group of elderly adults who,
late in their lives, are learning to use a computer and go online. Many of them
are on the Internet, enjoying the benefits of sending and receiving e-mails
and photographs from friends and family members. They feel closer to the people
they care about most.
What can older adults learn to do on the computer? They can find anything and
everything on the Web. It is common knowledge that the Internet is the most
comprehensive resource available for quality information, and it’s readily
accessible with just a click of the mouse. The Internet provides the resources
to remain current with news and stock-market quotes, find jobs, run home businesses,
research medications, pay bills automatically, purchase theatre tickets, find
great airfares, meet single people for relationships— but that’s
another article for another time. In short, there are thousands of services
and discounts for seniors who are online.
Surfing with SeniorNet
Founded in 1986, SeniorNet is a national and international nonprofit organization
dedicated to teaching adults who are fifty and older how to use computers. With
more than 140 learning centers, it is the world’s largest training organization
for providing older adults with education in and access to computer technology.
A wide range of courses specifically designed for this age group is offered:
there are classes for complete beginners, those with intermediate computer knowledge,
and those who would like assistance with more advanced topics. Volunteer instructors
and coaches teach classes, with one teacher and three coaches for every twelve
students. This is hands-on, friendly instruction with each student working on
his own computer.
The volunteers who staff the SeniorNet Learning Centers come from all walks
of life; they are retired engineers, project managers, trainers, and people
with organizational experience. They are also executives, educators, and those
who are retired from the medical and legal fields. What they all have in common
is their ability, determination, and eagerness to teach seniors how to use the
The Attraction of SeniorNet
By far, the greatest draw for older adults who want and need to learn to use
a computer is the desire to e-mail their families—especially their grandchildren.
They come to SeniorNet so that they can enjoy contact with loved ones who may
live far away. They are ready to discover how to share what they know and what
they need to know, including recipes, news, and myriad other things. They want
to learn computer technology so that they can do Google searches in their efforts
to study their family genealogy.
The SeniorNet Computer Learning Center in Huntington, Long Island, New York,
is the number-one learning center worldwide. It was the first SeniorNet computer
lab on Long Island, and it is the recipient of the 2007 Chairman Award in Excellence
along with the Chairman 2008 Exemplary Award. This center was established in
1999 by a group of volunteers who worked under the leadership of the center’s
founder, Don Weidman. When he died in 2004, the newly refurbished computer laboratory
was dedicated to his memory and renamed the Don Weidman SeniorNet Computer Learning
To date, the center has conducted more than five hundred classes and trained
more than 5,100 seniors. Many of the people currently enrolled in classes did
not have the opportunity to do so many years ago. They were too busy raising
their families and working at their jobs when the initial computer revolution
was in full bloom. Also, while many of them wanted to become computer literate,
they felt daunted by conventional computer classes.
Recently I visited Huntington’s SeniorNet Computer Learning Center. I
found it to be a beehive of activity. The pleasant atmosphere provided by its
numerous dedicated volunteer instructors and coaches was warm and welcoming.
I recognized instantly that this was an organization with which I would remain
involved. Also, the computer courses cost very little. There is no pressure
and there are no grades—just valuable, life-changing information.
This year, for the first time, SeniorNet in Huntington is offering the Homebound
Remote Learning Project, which is currently in the late testing stage. Its objective
is to provide the homebound, a largely underserved segment of the community,
with remote, interactive classes—that is, virtual classrooms. This venture
will serve as a lifeline to ailing, isolated older adults. It will afford them
a window to the world and make available to them the skills with which to take
an active part in it. So far, this experiment has been a resounding success
The Huntington center continues to win awards. It was recognized by the Huntington
Town Board in 2007, 2008, and 2009 with a Town Proclamation for its contribution
to the Huntington Township community. In addition, it has received the Proclamation
in Excellence from 9th District Assemblyman Andrew P. Raia, Councilwoman Susan
Berland, and 18th District Legislator Jon Cooper.
Teaching computer skills is SeniorNet’s contribution to helping the older
population in Long Island remain youthful, vibrant, and informed. What a truly
Laraine H. Jablon is a freelance writer. She lives in Nesconset, Long Island,
New York, and can be reached at Lhjablon@yahoo.com or 631-902-5694.