Older adults finding a home on Facebook, other networking sites
Janet Stacy, 71, smiles as she holds her iPad, types in some data, and sees an image of her house, courtesy of Google Maps.
“When my home came up, I thought that was really neat,” says Stacy of the West End. “You learn as you go.”
Before she retired from Comcast in 2005, Stacy learned her way around the Internet. More recently, she has moved on to social-networking sites like Facebook — to better keep up with her two grown daughters, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — and using more high-tech functions like Google Maps. She hones her skills at a computer class taught at the West End Senior Center.
“You’re never too old to learn,” Stacy says, as she searches for videos of Jimmy Fallon on YouTube.
The Internet — particularly with increasingly sophisticated functions like social networking — may seem like science fiction to people who grew up in the early part of the 20th century. Yet, with the rapidly changing world of communication, more and more seniors are learning to use the Internet, signing up for websites like Facebook and exploring sites like YouTube and Mapquest.
According to Pew Research Center Internet Project, since 2000, the number of adults 65 and older who use the Internet has increased from 14 percent to 59 percent — and of those users, nearly half (46 percent) use a social-networking site such as Facebook. Among older adults who use the Internet, 71 percent go online every day or almost every day, and 11 percent go online three to five times per week, according to the 2013 Pew study.
Learning to navigate the high-tech online world can be intimidating to an older person, but very rewarding, says Maria Joseph, outreach librarian for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She oversees programming directed toward seniors, including five-week technology and computer classes at some senior centers in the area. The students use mostly iPads, but also laptop computers.
“For the most part, some of them have some very basic email skills,” she says. “My goal is to … get them sort of beyond that and get them more into social networking. You see people being completely … scared of the technology and fear they are either going to destroy the device they are working on, or they hear scary stories of people taking private information.
“Then, you have folks who are just so excited and want to learn,” Joseph says. Her mother — Audrey Spiros, 84, who lives in Ohio — has been using Facebook for the past few years, and she was the sort of person who couldn’t program the clock on the VCR.
“I love watching the excitement and surprise in the seniors’ eyes when they learn or try,” Joseph says.
Beth Ison — Community College of Allegheny County’s coordinator of aging programs, which provides computer classes at some area senior centers — says that the family component plays a huge role in motivating seniors to learn the Internet, Facebook and the like.
“They want to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren who may live on another coast,” Ison says. “They know this is the best way to do it,” and they need coaching.
Ison says that seniors especially love Ancestry.com, where they can do genealogical research about family history that otherwise could be tedious.
“They’re really enjoying surfing the net,” Ison says. “All that information being so accessible kind of blows their minds.”
Often, younger family members initiate the Internet-learning process by giving their senior relative a computing device like a tablet, but the senior feels intimidated and needs professional coaching.
“You have a lot of folks who have been given the device by well-meaning family members who might not have time to sit down with that person and teach them how to text,” Ison says.
Kay Carroll, 75, of Scott got online a few years ago in order to stay in touch with a grandchild who was serving in Kuwait in the Army, and she continues to learn in computer classes at the West End Senior Center. She has learned many online features in the past few years, including Facebook, though she is still figuring out the dynamics of the “like” and “share” buttons. Carroll’s favorite feature is Skype, which she uses to communicate with some of her three adult children and five grandchildren.
“That amazes me,” Carroll says about Skype.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.