Computer Savvy Older Adults Excel at High Technology

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth Harmon Daily Herald Correspondent

Back in 1974, Owen Davis found himself on the cutting edge of high technology when he bought a used computer from Highland Park High School's math department for $1,200.

The so-called DEC "mini-computer" stood 6-feet tall, used paper tape and had less than 1/100th of a current computer's memory capacity. But down in his basement, Davis, a college physics major, taught himself the basics of computer programming, which helped shape his later career in software quality management.

About 10 years after Davis acquired his DEC, Dorothy Collins, the mother of a junior high school aged son, was also about to discover the world of computers.

"Apple had just introduced its first home computer and my son wanted one to play games on, so we bought one and I discovered I could do some business applications with it. So I started dabbling," said Collins.

Collins' dabbling helped her to gain the expertise needed to computerize her work place, the American Economic Development Council. After taking the not-for-profit agency from pencil and paper record keeping and training staff to use the new software, Collins decided to make computers her career and in 1990, started her own business, Computer Coaching.

Collins, now 67 and Davis, 58, are just two of the millions of computer-savvy older adults who are helping other members of their generation get the most from today's technology advances.

Contrary to what many believe, adults over 50 are very much a part of the digital revolution.

Market research commissioned by Microsoft, Inc. in 2002 revealed that while close to 80 percent of 40- to 49-year-olds use computers, older adults are not far behind. Over 70 percent of adults 50 to 64 use computers, as do 50 percent of those aged 65 to 74. Even the oldest adults are computer literate; Microsoft reports that nearly a quarter of adults 75 and over use computers.

One look at the AARP's Web site offers further evidence that older folks not only use computers, but want to get the most out of them.

The site offers plenty of information and resources such as hardware, software and gadget reviews, and how-to guides that cover topics ranging from computer basics such as using e-mail to more advanced applications such as digital photography. Links to online communities put users in contact with others.

Locally, adult-communities like Luther Village in Arlington Heights provide computer labs and offer users groups to teach basic and advanced computer skills.

The Luther Village group began in 1999 to help residents learn to connect the computers they were receiving from family members, said founder Bob Peterson, now 83.

"It was basically just for e-mail, but once people learned to use e-mail they got interested in the Internet. Once they got interested in the Internet, things really started to expand," he said.

The group meets monthly and has a total of about 75 members.

"We'll generally have about 25 show up at meetings, depending upon the topic," said Davis, a member of the group.

Speakers come from within the group and outside present topics that range from using digital photography, word processing and Quicken software to finding investment information on the Internet. …