Growing Old in the Age of Computers

Old and new converge at Al's, but computers reign.
Adam Weatherall

The only person I know in my age group who does not own a computer also does not use a cell phone, cannot figure out how to operate the ground positioning system (GPS) in his car, doesn't understand fax machines and has trouble setting the controls on his clock radio.

His whole world is golf, a game which requires no special knowledge or abilities beyond being able to place a small white ball on a wooden tee and whacking it with a 9-iron to hell and gone.

His name is Ernie and he's 79. He retired from teaching years ago and just doesn't care about emailing anyone or posting pictures of his dog on Facebook, mainly because he doesn't have a dog. He also doesn't have a wife, whom he places in the same category as a computer; occasionally useful but mostly unnecessary.

I mention Ernie to illustrate how rare it is these days for seniors not to own a machine that allows entry into the wonders of cyberspace. I am 83 and my circle of friends range in ages from 50 on up and they all use computers---except, of course, for Ernie. They similarly own and use cell phones, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Skype and Dragon hardware and software, Nooks, Kindles and a lot of other electronic gadgetry of which I am not yet aware.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 72% of those in the 65-plus age bracket use the Internet daily for home businesses, general research and exploring their own histories, including past love affairs. The figure compares to 77% of those in the 50-64 age group.

As the number grows, older Americans are increasingly turning to classes in schools and private homes to learn how to use computers, utilizing a machine that features a large-letter keyboard and a mouse with a 200% zoom capability.

I am deep into the world of computers because I had to be, although I cling to the notion that no computer will ever replace the typewriter in romantic lore.  I miss the clickety-clacking of my old Underwood in a calamitous newspaper city room where I composed the first words I ever wrote for public consideration.

But time marches on, and I can tell you that a lot of us older people will be marching right along with it, although some with walkers will be marching a little slower and others in wheelchairs will be rolling along with it. Look around you. We'll be there.

Except, of course, for Ernie

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