Group Identification

Senior citizens are a growing segment of western society, and the demographic shift is only beginning. Much as they would like to put it off, the leading edge of the baby boom will soon be encroaching on the realm of the elderly. I mention this particular set of pre-seniors only to illustrate the growing importance of this segment of society, and why they cannot be ignored. For clarity, I will define senior citizens as people 65 years and older. The particular seniors I will be inviting to participate are those with no overwhelming disabilities (physical, mental or fiscal), who have a reasonable amount of time to spare on a regular basis (i.e. they are not working, volunteering, housekeeping, farming, or otherwise productively occupying themselves).

I will be inviting this group to participate in the realm of personal computers (PCs) and the Internet, for various purposes. This group is identified in various other contexts, but has not really been in the context of PCs. Proselytizers thereof tend to ignore this group for various reasons, most of which are rooted in the profit motive. The acceptance of PCs among seniors is stubbornly low, and shows every indication of staying that way for some time; therefore, groups with more potential are sought after first. Since there are still many such groups to choose from, seniors have been largely ignored. Even if seniors could be convinced to use PCs on a wide scale, there are other limiting factors. Seniors tend to have relatively small disposable incomes, so they cannot be expected to participate in the rapid upgrade cycle that the PC industry continues to push. They have a higher tendency towards slight disabilities that would make PCs harder to use (e.g. vision problems, arthritis, slight amnesia and/or aphasia). They also tend to have a fundamental distrust of new technologies, and have a very critical eye when confronted with them.

In view of all these obstacles, an astute reader might wonder why it would be worthwhile to target this particular group. There are two obvious motives: one fairly altruistic, the other less so. The first is that the elderly are human beings, and should not be ignored. There are numerous benefits to be gained by seniors through the use of computers, and the opportunity should not be effectively denied through apathy. The second is that this niche exists, and is growing. The market will inevitably fill it (as it does all things ), and the first ones that can figure out how will gain a share of it that will be hard for others to wrest away.

The following "invitation" is intended to be read in the context of a magazine/newsletter aimed at people who have recently retired.

Invitation to Participate

Got some free time?

Edith Sommers

We've made it. We've put in our time, and it's time to relax. If you're like me, you spent the first year or so of your retirement catching up on all the little things you put off. Once that was out of the way, you decided to have a well-deserved rest, and just took it easy for a while. Well, it may not have happened to you yet (maybe it never will), but after a couple months of the easy life, I got restless. We spend most of our lives as productive members of society, keeping our bodies and minds active, doing our best for our fellow man (whoops, I suppose that should be "person"). It doesn't feel right to simply sit around and watch the world go by. So what are we to do? Well, let me tell you what I did.

A few months ago, my son Stuart was visiting, and as we were talking, the conversation drifted to the subject of computers. He had recently "upgraded" his "PC", and was telling me about some of the things he and his family were doing with it. Apparently, his wife Susan has been researching her family tree, and the computer helps her to keep track of the information, as well as to research it. His daughters do most of their school work on it. Stuart uses it to do work at home. The entire family uses it to email friends and relatives. After a while, he asked me if I'd ever considered getting a computer. He had noticed that I was seeming somewhat restless lately, and thought it might be an interesting way to spend my time. Of course, I was reluctant at first. What would I do with a computer? Aren't they expensive, and hard to use? Well it took some time, but eventually Stuart convinced me to give it a try. Since he had recently upgraded, he could give me his old PC. He also offered to help me learn what I needed to know to take it up myself.

I'll admit it was a bit rough going at first. Computer people tend to use some pretty strange words - sometimes it seems like they've made up a whole new language. After the first week though, I started to get the hang of it. Really, all it takes is a little getting used to. Once I was comfortable with the basics, Stuart showed me some different programs to do the things I wanted to do, and I chose the ones that suited me best. For instance, I chose Word Pro to do word processing, and Eudora for email. At the end of the first month, I realized that I hadn't had to ask Stuart a question for several days.

So now that I'm an old hand at this, let me tell you what I do with my computer. For one thing, I wrote this article with it. Using my web browser I keep up with current news and events. I've also joined an internet discussion group on issues relevant to seniors. I check several local community organization websites for upcoming events. The most important thing to me though, is the ability to keep in touch with my family. Previously, I might have seen my granddaughters once a month. Now that I can use email, we never go a week without "talking" (of course, email is as natural as breathing to them).

So now I'm hooked. And let me tell you, I feel better than ever. I'm more aware of events in my community, and the rest of the world. I can contribute my voice on issues that are important to me. I can help my granddaughters with the advantages of experience, and they can help me with their fresh outlook on life. Of course computers aren't for everyone, and you may find that you prefer a less technological lifestyle. I've found that it has helped me make the transition to retirement, and all I suggest is that you give it a try.