Make the computer your new best friend

If you’re not yet among the millions of Canadians who use a computer, you’re probably a little fed up with the well-meaning but tiresome cajoling of friends and family: “It’s so easy, little kids do it!” they say. “You’ll never look back!”Well, they’re right. And to prove it, our editors found a willing, though computer-illiterate 50-plusser, to participate in a little experiment.

To discover why so many older Canadians are resistant to using a computer, we invited long-time CARP member, Walter LaCroix, 69, to our Toronto offices to see if we could convince him that computers could be fun.

FPN: Walter, it looks like the computer is here to stay. Have you ever tried using one?

Walter LaCroix: No, I haven’t. But just because the airplane is here to stay it doesn’t mean I have to learn to fly. What can a computer do for me?

FPN: A computer can enrich your life in many ways. You can use it to write letters or make music. You can draw; you can communicate instantly with people all around the world. And now with the Internet…

Walter:</srog> See! There you go, just like my grandson! Internet, World Wide Web. Get online. It’s all jargon! What does it mean?

FPN: It’s really quite simple. The thing to remember about personal computers is that most people have no idea how they work and they don’t need to know. It’s just another machine, like your car or microwave, the only difference being this machine can do a variety of things for you. Your typical computer is just a box (the CPU, or Central Processing Unit), a TV screen (the monitor), a printer and a keyboard.

Walter: Hold it right there! I can’t type. How can I use a computer?

FPN: Since it’s so easy to correct errors on a computer keyboard, many people develop their own “hunt and peck” style – two fingers are all you need. If you’re planning on doing more writing, computer programs such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing will have you typing 30 words a minute in no time. And, of course, you’ll be using a mouse for most of your computer commands anyway.

Walter: A mouse?

FPN: One of the great inventions of the twentieth century is “point and click” technology. You roll the mouse on your desk to point an arrow at different symbols on the computer screen. Say you want to write a letter. Using the mouse, you aim the arrow at the symbol for your writing program and simply click a button on the mouse. A blank page appears on the screen, you type your letter, then point the mouse at a “save” symbol to store it on the computer, or a “print” symbol to print it out. And of course you can check your spelling with the computer’s spell-check program.

Walter: So the computer’s just a glorified typewriter? Why should I bother if that’s all it can do? It’s a waste of my time and money.

FPN: It can do a lot more than print out letters for you. Remember you mentioned your grandson talking about the Internet and e-mail?

Walter: He talks about “visiting” other places, shopping on-line, sending messages to my other grandson in England – all for free. He’s a very smart lad, of course, so maybe he can do it, but I’m too old to learn all that stuff.

FPN: Wrong! Seniors are one of the largest groups now using computers and the Internet. It’s not really a new concept. Think of the Internet like an old telephone party line. In this case, the party line extends around the world, and your computer can be connected to any other computer you choose, whether that of a friend or even a shopping website. And unlike the old party lines, the Internet offers a pretty good degree of privacy.

Walter: That sounds good, but what I’m most interested in right now is this free mail service, where I can send letters to anyone in the world. Is that complicated?

FPN: Not at all. You type your letter on your computer, click the mouse a few times to connect your computer to the Internet through your phone line, and within seconds your grandson in England will have your letter on his computer screen.

Walter: That sounds pretty good to me and not too complicated after all. Where’s a good place to buy a computer, and what kind should I get?

FPN: I’d suggest a test drive first. Why not ask one of your grandchildren next time you see them for a little lesson? They’d be thrilled to show you and you’ll be surfing the Net in a couple of minutes. Or visit your local library and ask about the Internet. Most offer free use of a computer and if you go when they’re not busy, the librarian can get you started.

Walter: I’ll give it a try…

Next article: Walter LaCroix shops for a computer.