Several years ago Garrison Phillips, a retired actor, bought himself a Dell computer. He soon recognized that he didn’t know what to do with it. “I needed instruction,” he told me in an interview conducted — perhaps surprisingly — by e-mail. “The technology of the Internet, cell and iPhones was like a foreign language.”
Mr. Phillips then attended one of the first classes offered by OATS, a New York City nonprofit (the acronym stands for Older Adults Technology Services) that provides free tech training for seniors.
Despite serious hearing loss from an injury in the Korean War, Mr. Phillips learned his way around his desktop, went on to more advanced OATS classes and now, at 83, uses his computer (his third) to blog, write stories and theater pieces, and to communicate with friends and family from England to California. It’s become “the most important activity and creative outlet in my life,” he wrote.
Would that more older adults could follow suit. A few weeks back, I noted that only 54 percent of Americans over age 65 have access to the Internet, according to Pew Research studies. Among those 77 and older, the proportion drops to about a third.
In an era when everything, from personal health records to nursing home quality ratings, is moving online, when the best way to stay in touch with grandchildren may involve texting, this amounts to slow progress. The tech analyst Laurie Orlov of the Aging in Place Technology Watch blog has called for a national campaign to bring 100 percent of seniors online.
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