Friday, April 1, 2011

Getting Seniors on The World Wide Web - Part I

Modern technology is something most of us take for granted. Internet is a big part of our everyday life. We pay our bills, read the latest news, book appointments and we even keep in touch with friends and family with the help of internet. But what happens when you are not apart of this phenomenon? As an older adult or a senior, new technology and the internet can be a source of anxiety and confusion. According to Older Adults Technology Services only 42% of the seniors in the US use the internet and less than 6 % of senior households has broadband in New York City. The consequence of this might be that many feel isolated and left behind. This barrier can even make it hard for seniors to participate in our society.

The good news is that there are people who are working really hard to change this. I was able to speak to Abby Stokes, the author of the handbook 'Is This Thing On?.’ This handbook introduces 'digital immigrants', as Abby likes to call people over the age of 40 who have no or very little experience with computers and internet. The book is written so that you can learn about a computer before you even have one. The book is linked to Abby's online website Abby & Me.

Abby Stokes

Abby & Me is designed like a launching pad for Abby’s book readers. It serves as an online help center and platform for different kinds of internet use. Abby & Me is a great site for a first time online visit, and when you feel ready to continue to surf the internet, the site offers a lot of useful links depending on what interests you have. The site includes an internet tutorial, with everything from how to send an email to how to run your own blog. You can even send your very first email through the site straight to Abby herself.

When creating the website Abby made sure that the site itself would be very easy to understand. A lot of websites are created in a very confusing way. Research led by Jakob Nielsen, regarding web usability for senior citizens, showed that during the year 2010 American seniors spent about $25 billion per year on online shopping. Another $15 billion were lost because of the poor usability on a lot of the shopping sites. Many seniors find websites too confusing and very hard to figure out. The reason for this is that a lot of websites are often created by young designers who just assume that everyone knows everything about computers and internet. To read the full report please visit:

On the question about what Abby thinks is the biggest consequence for seniors not being able to keep up with modern technology and internet, she said that it is the feeling of exclusion. Knowing that internet exists but not knowing how to be a part of it can feel very demoralizing and disempowering. Abby does think seniors still can retire and live a good life without being a part of the digital era, but she does believe that being a part of it makes a lot of seniors happier. Internet is a great thing if you are housebound, and it is a good way to stay in contact with friends and family.

When I asked Abby what inspired her to write 'Is This Thing On?’ she told me a 17 year old story about her mother not being able to change the clock in her car. The only thing she could do was to wait for Abby to come and change the clock for her. When her mother told her she was curious about computers and internet, Abby offered to help.

Abby also expressed her love for teaching. Every now and then Abby teaches free classes in New York City for seniors about computers and internet. Since the beginning Abby has had a lot of former students that use the internet on a daily regular basis. Seniors from all around the world write and thank her for writing the handbook and creating the website Abby& Me.

Sanna Klemetti

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