50-plus Net surfers fastest-growing group

On the day of her 50th wedding anniversary last November, Queen Elizabeth II recapped some of the extraordinary events that had helped shape the world during the last 50 years. The 71-year-old queen drew a round of chuckles from a gathering of party guests when she confessed that while many people had been surfing the Internet in recent years, she could only admit to having talked to people who had surfed the ‘Net. The Queen may soon be in the minority. Worldwide, there are an estimated 80 million people ‘surfing the Net,’ an expression describing people who have access to a computer and who are electronically joined through telephone and cable line networks, to other people on computers around the world.

According to Andrew Dagys, author of The Internet for 50+: The Complete Guide for Every Canadian Over 50, there are now approximately 200,000 Canadians (and approximately eight million Americans) over age 50 who are using this electronic communication tool. And with over seven million Canadians aged 50-plus, that figure has nowhere to go but up. In fact, this age group represents the fastest growing segment of Internet users. Why?

Dagys says the Internet empowers pele over 50 in three ways. First, it gives them access to a wide range of current and historical information on the Internet’s giant library called the World Wide Web. Second, it allows them to keep in touch with friends and family thanks to a computerized postal service called ‘e-mail.’ This is particularly important for individuals living with reduced mobility, no car or community resources or limited finances, says Dagys. And third, it allows them to join electronic communities called discussion groups, where they can share their views with peers, politicians and others, by communicating online through what is, in essence, one giant party line.

Together, these three components form a powerful communication tool called the Internet, which helps keep people informed and involved with friends — and strangers — around the world. “It’s a very intangible and subtle thing,” says Dagys. “But it’s very important to those over 50.”

It’s also very confusing to beginners. And because of all the jargon, some people may be as reluctant as the Queen to surf the net. The best way to learn about it –- in fact the only way –- is to sit down in front of a friend’s or local library’s computer and give it a whirl. Computer and software companies everywhere are eager for your business and, as a result, computers and the Internet have become a lot easier (and a lot cheaper) to use.

And if you have grandchildren, well, consider yourself doubly blessed if they’ll agree to be your private tutor. The youth in this country are masters of this electronic domain and can explain it in the simplest and most amusing of terms. But you may be surprised at just how capable some of your friends and peers have become. It certainly impressed the Queen.