For elderly, wired world holds terror — or delight
By Sam Allis
Globe Staff / April 6, 2010
They grew up in a time when technology meant a wall telephone, a TV set with three channels, and a radio. Today they’re in the midst of a monumental transition. While some senior citizens are handling the rapid rise of the Internet age well — e-mailing, posting family photos on Facebook, paying bills online — for many it has prompted sheer terror.
People have always faced changes as they age — cable TV, voice mail, call waiting — but no generation has been thrown so much change, so fast, as today’s seniors. Those who’ve adjusted feel confident. Those who’ve resisted feel vulnerable, oblivious to how critical the computer will be to help them stay in touch with friends, order food, or buy prescription drugs as they become more housebound.
If there is a silver lining, it’s this: The next generation of seniors — the baby boomers — will not have to go through this wrenching change. They know how to reboot, IM, and tweet.
“The over-70 now will not look like the over-70 10 years from now,’’ said Lisa Berkman, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who is a specialist on aging. “The baby boomers have grown up in this environment.’’
But for now, there are a lot of people like Dorothy Larsen, an 86-year-old widow who lives in Framingham. “The future scares me,’’ she said. “I like the old days. I’m scared of computers.’’
So is West Roxbury resident Jane Kennedy, somewhere past 70. “I’m not on the Internet,’’ Kennedy said. “I don’t know that much about it. It seems to get more and more advanced. I don’t even know what they’re talking about
: BlackBerries, blueberries.’’
What’s different for seniors today is the pace of change, said Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychology professor who studies aging.
But without a computer, you can’t use Netflix and you can’t communicate with friends, which is why Roberta Kwiatkowski, 77, took her third computer class last week at the Callahan Senior Center in Framingham.