Breaking the digital divide

Kenosha-area seniors learn to navigate the online world




As new technologies transform how Americans communicate and manage their finances, some Kenosha-area seniors are taking steps to become more accustomed with personal computers and high-speed Internet; others already feel left behind.

“There is definitely a divide between the generations when it comes to computer usage,” said Tom Carson, head of reference services with Kenosha Public Library.

Seniors are being forced to use computers whether they like it or not. Carson said many seniors visit the library in hopes of learning about email, Google Maps and applying for jobs online.

“We get so many people asking us to help them print out their boarding passes or rental car tickets,” Carson said. “And many seniors feel uncomfortable shopping online or purchasing computers, because they don’t want to be taken advantage of.”

But the digital divide may be waning.

According to research published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than 50 percent of Americans 65 and older make use of the Web. According to the 2012 report: “The latest data represent the first time that half of seniors are going online. After several years of very little growth among this group, these gains are significant.”

As of February 2012, a third of Internet users 65 and older used social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn; about 20 percent visited them each day. And email has become the “bedrock” of Internet communication for seniors — nearly 90 percent of seniors who use the Web also use email.

Communicating with the old country

Millie Nutini, 81, said she uses Facebook to communicate with family living in Italy.

“I check it once each morning. It is easy, and I use it to communicate with grandkids,” she said.

Nutini owns a computer and a Kindle e-reader for email and reading books.

“I think seniors are becoming less afraid of computers,” she said. “I want to get an iPad for FaceTime messaging, too.”

Gap remains

Still, seniors 76 and older are far less likely to make use of the Internet; only 34 percent of the G.I. Generation reported use. Few among this oldest segment of the population are likely to start without some assistance or encouragement.

Fran Iorio, a Kenosha Senior Center volunteer , said she knows very little about computers and carries only a basic cellphone.

“It wouldn’t be bad for me to have a computer, but to pay for the Internet each month would be a problem,” she said. “My grandkids out of state want me to keep in touch with them through Facebook.”

The senior center provides laptops for weekly computer classes. Iorio, 82, said many seniors who visit the center own computers, although many are unable to pay for high-speed Internet access at home.

“I could take a class here, but how could I keep up if I don’t have one at home? It is a hindrance for me, you can’t just call people on the phone anymore,” she added. “I need a computer.”

Training available

The Kenosha Public Library offers free Wi-Fi and popular weekly classes in basic computing, Microsoft Office and typing.

“For the last 15 years we have offered classes, and we just hired our first digital services librarian, who will be working on services for seniors,” Carson said. “Many seniors are coming to us because they know we have plenty of computers.

“Just because someone is 90 years old does not mean they don’t know how to use a computer.”


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