Celery Bridges the Technology-Communication Generation Gap

By Grabowsky, Neil | Aging Today, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

Celery Bridges the Technology-Communication Generation Gap


Grabowsky, Neil, Aging Today


If you're age 65 right now and you're not already a regular Internet user, the odds are you won't become one. Statistically speaking, you'll live to be age 85, which means you could find yourself out of the loop over the next 20 years. And you're not alone. There are roughly 30 million people in the United States over the age of 65 who don't use computers or the Internet.

In 2003, 1 decided to research how elders, baby boomers and Generation Xers communicated with each other in a typical three-generation family. What I discovered prompted me to co-found Celery, a service that uses simple fax technology to enable people to e-mail, read blogs and use social media - even Twitter - without using a computer or accessing the Internet.

Celery is founded on three basic premises: Keep it simple, keep it affordable and don't make anybody learn anything new.

CELERY'S ROOTS

Even before I knew that there was a national market for Celery, I had a personal incentive to create this service: My father does not use computers, and probably never will. Although I'm what you might call a computer geek, my father's disinterest in computers never put any distance between the two of us - until I left home for college.

As a busy 23-year-old engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N. Y, I didn't keep the same hours as my father. I wasn't free to call him when it was convenient for him, and traditional letters were not an option. I could e-mail him if I had to, but my message would first have to pass through his secretary who then printed it out and delivered it to my father. His secretary would then transcribe his response and e-mail it back to me (whew!).

Adam Wishneusky, a 22-year-old classmate, was having the same trouble keeping in touch with his grandparents. We both wanted to communicate with our loved ones in a way that was convenient, intuitive and comfortable for us. Since we couldn't e-mail certain relatives, we fell out of out touch with them. We felt bad about that, and our non-computer-using family members were feeling guilty, too. They knew we didn't write letters and they didn't want to call on the phone for fear of interrupting our busy lives.

Adam and I decided to design a system in which we could send and receive our messages as e-mails, and our parents and grandparents could send and receive messages using technology that they were comfortable with. Our research uncovered the fact that most people over age 25, (which included my father and Adam's grandfather) have used a fax machine at some point in their lives. We ascertained that fax machines were readily available and very affordable.

We connected the two technologies, fax and e-mail, and had a prototype working within two weeks. I would send my father an e-mail that would print in color on his fax machine. And he would write me a note back, fax it to me and it would arrive in my e-mail box in a portable document format (PDF).

Now I was able to communicate with my father on my terms. I could finally include him in my life in ways that I couldn't do before: I could instantly send him photographs or a page from a website. And he didn't have to learn or use any new technology.

Three years later, Adam and I developed our family prototype into a commercial service we decided to call Celery. Our unusual name plays off of the Latin word Celeritas, which means speed. That's what we do - bring "snail mail" up to speed! And we're currently doing this for nearly 10,000 people, ages 70 through 90 years old. Our service users are mostly women who live alone, but we also have reached the plain people of Amish and Mennonite communities.

THE MAGIC OF CELERY: FROM FAXTO E-MAIL

Celery is a service that turns any fax machine into an e-mail machine.

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