Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Updated Proposal and Abstract.

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 church groups can be conduits of computer-education services, thereby combating computer illiteracy and mistrust of technology. Theirs are the organizations that engender trust, and they can be the proverbial spoons full of sugar that help the technological medicine go down.

To anchor my study of computer literacy—and to define what that term means for my particular context—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 aid in the spread of computer literacy. 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.

This presentation focuses on developments in computer literacy among the elderly and the hindrances to that development, particularly among widows and widowers. Research has shown that computer literacy counteracts loneliness and depression, and aids in the bereavement process, but barriers for elderly people are still numerous. In this presentation I survey the work of literacy scholars Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher as well as numerous articles on senior studies to provide context for my assertions that supportive communities and web-design changes are necessary to encourage Internet use among a wider group of seniors. I look to sites like widowsorwidowers.com and seniorpeoplemeet.com as models for these design changes. Such discourse communities also provide an invaluable understanding of how seniors engage with the Internet and develop a feeling of connectedness online.


Lydia said...

Looks good Dave. You reintegrated the focus on widows/ers and bereavement and kept the website survey idea. Nice work. Send it.

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