More And More Grandparents Turning To World Wide Web To Connect With Grandkids
By Diana Barnum

  Once television was invented, it took 14 years for 25% of the population to get a TV set in their homes, according to Dave Weissman, co-owner of PC Help Doctors. But it only took four years for 25% of the homes to get a computer.

  That means some grandparents are getting into the online action.

  "And I would say that between 5-10% of the people we see are seniors," said Weissman.

  PC Help Doctors make house calls to install software and hardware, provide computer instruction and repair or upgrade computers. While in the homes, Weissman found that among the senior population, the most common computer activities were conducting basic research, using e-mail and chatting with AOL Instant Messenger.

  "Most of the people, about 70%, don't even have AOL service," explained Weissman. "They just download the third party plug-in."

  Weissman's clients have included a 95-year old woman who called to learn about e-mail and a 75-year old couple who took their computer out of the box and had never touched a mouse before. They asked what to do next.

  "You can see joy in their faces," said Weissman, describing his love for the business.

  Weissman also helps seniors on the Internet at Columbus Wired, an online magazine for central Ohio. As the magazine's publisher, Weissman maintains articles and features for seniors, as well as the other indexed categories: business, finance, health and fitness, dollar stretcher and more.

  Grandchildren also try to help their grandparents get online. Recently, a discussion took place between several members of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Lone Writers' listserv, an automated mailing list sent out to subscribers who can post messages to it through their own e-mail. The result is like a newsgroup or forum of messages that only the group members can read.

  One STC member asked for advice on how to supply her 83-year-old mother-in-law with e-mail capabilities. Her family was considering the purchase of a small keyboard-sized e-mail gadget called a MailStation for her. Several respondents agreed to share their letters with Senior Times:

"My grandmother was in her 80s and never learned to drive a car, but she was able to use the Internet. I hadn't seen her in many years before she died back in May and had a hard time connecting with any sort of emotion to grieve at her funeral until my aunt told me about how my grandmother would print out pictures from my Web site and put them on her fridge.

  - Bryan Westbrook,
   Austin, TX.

"What's the point of e-mail if you can't send her pictures of her grandkids/great-grandkids? The mail station is okay, but I'd invest in a cheap, full-sized computer or laptop (it doesn't have to be a great one - all you'll need is enough power to get her on the Internet). Since you'll be investing time teaching her to use anything anyway, why not just teach her Outlook Express?"

- Jeff Hanvey

"I currently have three computer coaching clients who range in age from 70 to 82. The 78-year-old inherited an old Mac from her daughter. The same daughter gave her a screen name on the daughter's AOL account, and grannie now keeps in touch with several far-flung grandchildren using e-mail and online chat. (In her spare time, she is designing a Web site for her garden club and teaching financial management with spreadsheets to a bunch of widows through her local YWCA.)

The other two (a 70-year old grannie and an 82-year-old grampa) were using cast-off Win95 machines that were being discarded from their former employers. After upgrading the WinBoxes (one to Win98se, the other to a new WinXP machine), we experimented with several online services and a couple of local ISPS. None of them worked very well for these people. The tech support people got very impatient with elderly folks who didn't understand the jargon, and my poor dears wound up angry and frustrated and depressed.

So ... I now have them on AOL, as well. They are very happy with the simple, step-by-step online help and wizards that irritate the rest of us. The online photo albums (with the addition of a cheap digital camera) make sharing family pictures absolutely painless for them. And - like my friend from the previous paragraph - they are thrilled with Instant Messages from their grandkids."

  - Kat Nagel,
   MasterWork Consulting Services


  Many seniors are learning about computers and the Internet from Web Wise Seniors, a mobile training lab that visits places where seniors already congregate. The mobile lab travels to several central Ohio senior centers, assisted living facilities and CompUSA stores.

  "One of the main motivators of seniors is to keep in touch with grandkids when they move away and go to college," said Mark Weiker, Web Wise instructor. "They say, 'I'll e-mail you, Grandma!'"

  And seniors learn quickly.

  "I have seen absolutely no learning curve whatsoever related to age," said Weiker. "Any older adult who is motivated to learn something new, learns as fast as any high school kid."

  Favorite Web sites for Weikers' students are genealogy sites. They allow visitors to create family tree printouts and search for birth and death certificates. Ebay, similar to a 24-hour worldwide garage sale, is another favorite among seniors.

  Senior students visiting the CompUSA stores for training are purchasing greeting card and photo editing software, according to Will Gorman, Customer Service representative at CompUSA.

  "They like to make and print out their own greeting cards," said Gorman, "And put photos on a CD and put them into a DVD player." Although his customers like Picture It Premiere, Microsoft Digital Imaging, Paris Greeting Card Kit and Nova Deluxe Greeting Cards, the most popular software they purchase is Norton Anti-Virus.

  So from no TVs to downloading digital photos of grandchildren onto a CD to be viewed in a DVD player on the TV, seniors have certainly come a long way! And quickly!

Diana Barnum is a local freelance writer. She welcomes phone calls at (614) 529-9459 and e-mail at


Reproduced with permission from:
The Senior Times
P.O. Box 30965
Columbus, OH 43230
(614) 337-2055