Seniors embracing tech boom

Posted 3/19/11

Jane Reuter In 1969, Tim Maloney was among the first to buy the latest technological marvel: a calculator. “It was $90, operated on batteries and …

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Seniors embracing tech boom


Jane Reuter

In 1969, Tim Maloney was among the first to buy the latest technological marvel: a calculator.

“It was $90, operated on batteries and it was huge,” said Maloney, 70, of Castle Rock.

Despite the exorbitant cost, Maloney said he had to have one.

“I just thought, ‘Man! Think of all you can do with it.’ ”

Miniature calculators are now given away as promotional items. But more than four decades later, Maloney’s passion for technology is unchanged.

His daily life includes an eReader, smart phone and laptop computer. He checks his bank balance and investments and reads news from around the world each morning. Maloney, whose lung capacity is limited due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, regularly walks the track at the Castle Rock Recreation Center with an oxygen tank, listening to books on his MP3 player.

He’s even, albeit reluctantly, on Facebook.

“Somehow I got trapped into it,” he said.

The ‘in’ crowd

As a senior, Maloney is far from alone in his passion for technology. Seniors represent the fastest-growing segment of Web users. In 2005, only 25 percent of those 65 and over used the Internet. Today, marketing companies estimate nearly half are online.

As baby boomers age, that percentage will increase dramatically. By 2050, one in five Americans will be 60 or older, and many of them already will be old hands at surfing the Net.

Seniors like 83-year-old Herb Bowman, who walks the halls of Centennial’s Holly Creek Retirement Community carrying a leather-bound iPad, are leading the pack.

He bought his first computer in the mid-70s, and his most recent — the iPad — only a few months ago. Bowman, who used computers through most of his career, has had a lifelong curiosity about electronics and technology.

“When I was 7 years old, my parents had a Big Ben alarm clock, so I took it apart to see how it worked,” he said.

Bowman couldn’t get the clock back together.

“It was during the Depression and my parents didn’t have the money to replace it. I got in quite a lot of trouble.”

That same inquisitiveness drove him to buy an iPad.

“Initially, it was curiosity,” he said. “And then I found out it’s a rather handy device. It takes the place of 90 percent of what I’d use a laptop for.”

He’s also recently upgraded from a cell phone to an iPhone. Between the two, Bowman says he doesn’t miss much.

Neither do fellow Holly Creek residents Ken and Jan Fuller. Both in theirs 80s and suffering from macular degeneration, the couple uses technology to stay abreast of the news, and in touch with friends and family. Ken Fuller’s computer is equipped with a Microsoft mouse magnifier that enlarges the display on the computer screen.

The Fullers also have used a Web cam to talk to their daughter.

“I think it’s cool,” Jan Fuller said. “Sometimes her husband will stick his head in and say something, or our grandson. I just wish I could see it better.”

Helping each other

Jan Fuller admits her knowledge of technology is a pale shadow of her husband’s. Using a typewriter, she said, seems more efficient than a computer.

“He’d better stick around to keep me going,” she says, smiling at her husband.

She’s not unlike many women of her generation. At both Holly Creek and Vi at Highlands Ranch senior community, residents say men outnumber women in computer use by a high percentage. It’s not for lack of interest or intelligence.

“Women didn’t really enter the work force until during World War II,” said Bill Baum, 86. “They didn’t go into engineering or mathematics. They’d be a teacher, nurse or secretary.”

That’s part of the reason Baum started Vi Geeks, a four-man, one-woman team of tech-savvy seniors who lend their know-how to others. Baum recently launched the Vi Geeks. Like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, they’re at the ready to help their fellow residents with any technological glitches.

“So far, we’re batting a thousand,” Baum said. “We’ve been able to fix everybody.”

Baum estimates about 50 percent of the residents at Vi are computer literate. The residents’ average age, he said, is 80. Most of them don’t wish to return to life without computers.

“There were no good old days,” Baum said with a laugh. “I don’t know how we lived without cell phones or computers.”

“You can’t say everything was bad now or then, but I think things are much better now than when we were children during the Great Depression.”

The only downside, Baum said, is that computers and television have changed the way today’s children play.

“Technology has taken kids inside,” he said. “We played completely outside. We hear so much today about children having diabetes and obesity. I don’t remember any obese children.”

“And because we had no television, our imaginations —as we listened to the radio — were better.”

Enriched lives

Those detrimental impacts aside, Baum is happy to live in a technologically advanced world. To date, he’s resisted buying a smart phone. Because he spends most of his time at Vi, the standard cell phone serves him well, he said.

Castle Rock’s Maloney may disagree. His newest acquisition is a Droid smart phone, which he’s explored with childish delight.

“That’s just been fascinating,” he said. “It is just incredible the amount of apps. I can just say ‘National Jewish Hospital’ and it’ll take me right there.”

Now that he’s had it a while, the Droid is slowly becoming “more like a tool than a play date,” he said. “But it’s something I can’t do without.”

Despite his plethora of gadgets, a bound book rests on Maloney’s bedside table, and newspapers dot his driveway each morning.

“I still do some things the old-fashioned way,” Maloney said. “I still write my appointments on my calendar.”

That may someday go the way of Maloney’s checkbook, long ago consigned to a drawer and gathering dust.

Baum, Bowman and Maloney don’t give much thought to statistics that show lifelong learning, including the use of technological tools, keeps the aging brain fit. While that may be true, it’s hardly top of mind for any of them.

“I do it because I want to stay in touch with what’s going on,” Maloney said.

But mostly, he added, because it’s fun.


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