Surf's up -
Several weeks ago, I ran into one of my old friends by a bank machine. While we were catching up, she told me about her mom, and how she was not making much use of the computer the family had bought her months earlier.
"I need some good reasons for her to use it," she said.
I had a few predictable answers - using e-mail, connecting with friends - at the time, but the idea has been bouncing around in my head for a month or so now. A much more detailed list follows; feel free to share with your friends and family.
First, though, a note: I don't think every single person should feel obligated to get online, or feel that they're somehow a failure if they don't. Even though programs have been in place for years to introduce seniors to computing - with obvious success, because some of the biggest online types I know retired years ago - many seniors still feel awkward or intimidated by a computer.
So, getting online is not the be-all and end-all. However, it's not that complicated, and there are some really good reasons why it's never too late for older users to jump in and log on. This is one mouse that won't bite.
Here's my list:
The video-conferencing application is free, easy to set up and one of the greatest tools for family members to keep in touch, especially when distance is a factor.
This really came home to me last year, when my wife's brother took his family to Ireland during his sabbatical year. Skype proved its worth over and over again; my mother-in-law delighted in being able to see her grandchildren regularly. Because each "call" was free, we could dawdle and take our time.
Even without video, there's value to be had in an online chat program, like MSN. (Just mentioning those three letters, by the way, may alarm the grandchildren, who see chat as their special terrain. Watch out, kids.)
There's nothing wrong with heading to the bank in person - seniors account for the most loyal in-bank customers - but online banking solves the problems of what to do on stormy days or during sickness. Commercial banks offer free packages and instructions.
Yes, Facebook - once the stomping ground of students, soon taken over by their parents. Why shouldn't grandparents get in on the fun, too? A good few of them are already there: some of my most diligent Facebook friends are pops and nans indulging in pictures and such of their little angels.
You don't have to be on Facebook to share photos. There are plenty of other ways to see what your kids and other relatives have been doing.
Maybe you, too, can discover how easy it is to shoot some digital photos and upload them to a service where your family can enjoy your work.
Why should the kids and the 9-to-5 set have the social media tools to themselves?
We're told grey power is a looming political force; it makes sense for individuals to build a community on the web.
The toolbox is there, and it's growing every week. Start a blog!
Take advantage of the vast resources of knowledge online. Enrol in a course, watch some instructional videos, check out some of the how-to sites that only keep expanding, even order a book from your local library.
Some gaming enthusiasts were surprised to see Brain Age and similar products emerge as top sellers for the Nintendo DS, a device that's definitely not just for kids. Similar applications are available online, too. Indeed, one of the best arguments for using the web is that it keeps the brain engaged; research is continually highlighting the importance of this as we grow older.
Get past the solitaire game that came with your computer. There are countless free, easy games online. Search "Flash games" in Google to get started.
You know what I'm looking forward to when I retire? Time to spend on my hobbies and interests, travel ... and just relaxing online, instead of the frantic pace that comes with my work. If you're retired, take advantage of the gift of time. You've earned it.
How seniors use the web
This link will take you to a Statistics Canada report entitled "Online activities of Canadian boomers and seniors," which was published earlier this year.
It shows that while some seniors are, indeed, all over the web, many are not. You may find it interesting to see how older Canadians are making use of online services.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com. Twitter: twitter.com/JohnGushue.