The whys and wherefores

Posted on June 15, 1999 
Filed Under Anita, The Star

By Anita Devasahayam

SILVER-haired surfers may not be that common in Malaysia yet, but the trend is catching on fast here.

Just browse community sites like Geocities, Tripod and Xoom, and you will be amazed by the number of local senior citizens who have built homepages there.

They’re just ordinary people who are fascinated with the Internet, and most of them only started using computers after they’d retired.

While a few senior citizens take to computing like ducks to water, there are many more who still feel alienated from the technology. There are many barriers — lack of awareness, time, expenses, or just plain fear of taking that first step.

Retired civil servant Victor Sankey, 66, says senior citizens are not deliberately distancing themselves from technology.

“Internet access is just not that urgent. Our priorities are different. There are more pressing matters to attend to, instead of spending our pension on a PC,” he says.

He adds that even if a few are attracted by what the Internet may promise, some feel inadequate to face it.

“Of course, that should not be the case in this day and age, as IT is a tremendous asset, and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” he says.

Schoolteacher Agnes Doss echoes his views. Her son uses the Net regularly, and she used to wonder what he was up to when he first started two years ago. Beyond switching on the PC, Doss admits she knows next to nothing about computers.

“I have seen the Net in use as a resource for information like health, and I do feel that I am missing out on something,” she confesses.

But Doss, 53, is determined to learn and hopes to join the growing group of online seniors.

Sankey agrees that a positive attitude is important, and believes that the Internet can empower older folk.

“If you cannot afford the initial outlay, there are cybercafes that will allow you to surf at reasonable rates,” he points out.

He says he does harbour some regret for not getting online, as he has children living and studying abroad. “What better way to communicate,” he asks.

More to IT Datuk N. Selvamany, the former headmaster at Anderson School in Ipoh, also has the same good reason to get online. “My children are living abroad, and e-mail would be the cheapest way to stay in touch with them,” he says.

But he is in the league of pensioners whose daily lives are busy enough as it is. So communications is limited to phone calls and letter writing, he says.

In fact, Selvamany, 73, recently had to pass up the opportunity to take up a computer course as his social calendar was packed.

“Our days are so full and pass by so fast — my wife and I are involved with social and community work,” he says, adding that he is even busier now that he’s retired, than when he was actually working.

It’s a little bit different for 61-year-old Dr Rugmini Panicker. The potent combination of loneliness and curiosity took her and her husband to a computer shop where they bought a brand new Pentium multimedia PC a couple of months ago.

Panicker’s two daughters in India had been pestering her to buy a PC so that they could keep in touch.

“My husband and I miss our girls and we are lonely without them. Everyone is talking about the Net and we decided to learn about it,” she says.

With a week, the newbies learnt how to use e-mail and surf the Net. “We were fortunate to have one of our friend’s kids come teach us how to use the PC every weekend,” Dr Panicker adds.

Today, the couple spent an hour a day at the PC.

As the number of users continue to multiply among older folk, it will create a powerful community to serve their needs, says Sankey.

Groups like the Ipoh Ratepayers and Taxpayers Association would benefit from an online presence. Sankey, who is its vice-president, believes that it will be a useful tool for disseminating information.

Related Links:
Never too old
A community of seniors
Teaching ‘em new tricks
Youngsters set to soar

Published in In.Tech, Star Publications (M) Bhd.

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