Monday, October 13, 2008

That Dang Thing: Computer Literacy and the Elderly

Things have changed since, in 1999, M.J. Cody published “Silver Surfers: Training and Evaluating Internet Use among Older Adult Learners.” Recent figures suggest that computer use has risen to 25% among older populations; new discourse communities like seniorpeoplemeet.com have emerged; and Microsoft and other companies have launched programs to help seniors become technologically savvy.
My presentation will focus on these new developments, and on computer literacy among the elderly in the 21st Century, particularly among widows and widowers. As we might expect, research has shown that computer literacy can counteract loneliness and depression, and aid in the bereavement process. As Gatto and Tak write in their article “Computer, Internet, and E-mail Use Among Older Adults: Benefits and Barriers,” online activity often leads to “connectedness, satisfaction, utility, and positive learning experiences.” These feelings must be preceded by computer literacy, however, and despite advances the barriers to such literacy for elderly people are still numerous.
These barriers—“frustration, physical and mental limitations, mistrust, and time issues” (Gatto and Tak)—might be remedied, I argue, with some old-fashioned product placement; those seeking to help older users—especially widowed users—become active members of lively Internet exchange need only to look for ways to package their information in recognizable terms. I argue that medical professionals, local news sources, and churches can be conduits of computer-education services, thereby combatting computer illiteracy and mistrust of technology. Theirs are the organizations that engender trust, and they can be the proverbial spoon full of sugar that helps the technological medicine go down.
To anchor my study of computer literacy, I survey the scholarship of Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher as well as numerous works on senior studies and technology. I also explore websites geared toward helping the widowed. Analysis of sites like widowsorwidowers.com and the aforementioned seniorpeoplemeet.com provides an understanding of how seniors engage with the internet. The benefit of such communities is apparent upon first glance; one user of seniorpeoplemeet.com reports, “I love this site!! It's so easy to use!! I'm not so shy anymore!” Accessibility of the kind noticed by that user should be repeated in browsers and applications, and those modifications will inspire senior use. On top of suggestions to combat mistrust, then, my presentation argues that practical changes will help seniors and the widowed to feel more comfortable on the Internet.
Many elders achieve computer literacy by ginger steps; the leaps I outline in my presentation, though, are integral to a feeling of connectedness that can bring folks toward a sense of solace, independence, and achievement.

1 comment:

Lydia said...

"they can be the proverbial spoon full of sugar that helps the technological medicine go down."--lovely:)

Dave, I think this is much more focused in its look at particular websites and senior activity on the net. I think that will add a great dimension by including senior voices (without having to interview etc...). Great idea.

Here's my big question (sorry): Have you abandoned the focus on widows and widowers to discuss the elderly more generally? If not, you might still need a little bit about bereavement and the particular needs of the grieving.