Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today

Bits & Bytes

Most Popular


Technology Fear Stops Older Adults From Logging On

But scientists are breaking the computer block

Old dogs and new tricks

That stance makes sense, says Laura Carstensen, a Stanford University psychologist who uses a framework she calls "socio-emotional selectivity theory" to study how people's goals change over the course of a lifetime.

Young people seek new skills "because they might become relevant later," Carstensen says, "Whereas when people age and time horizons shrink, they are more interested in what seems to matter now. So they focus more on emotional goals and being with the people that matter most in life."

She disputes whether older people are inherently less able to learn new technology, pointing out that today's elderly have accommodated to more technological change in their lifetimes than any previous generation in history.

While many older people may not see the point of using computers for social networking, Carstensen thinks more of them would adopt the technology if they were provided with the right incentive.

"My hypothesis would be if you develop new technologies that are going to give older adults an opportunity to experience meaningful rewards, they would be all over it and learn it very well," she says.

Test case

At the University of Miami, CREATE director Sara J. Czaja wants to see whether access to a simple, senior-friendly computer system will provide those rewards and maybe even enrich users' lives.

Czaja is conducting a yearlong study with 300 people over the age of 65 who live by themselves. Half the participants have been provided with a customized computer system using a modified version of BigScreenLive, a computer software program targeted at older people. The modified program, called PRISM for personal reminder information social management, has additional functions and different interface features.

"We're interested in understanding what this means in terms of improving quality of life, as well as improving social isolation and social interaction patterns," Czaja says. "In another year or so we'll have some good empirical data."

Her CREATE colleague Charness, who has discussed ways to make the technology easier to use with usability experts in U.S. technology companies, says that some manufacturers used to assume the senior market was too small to bother with.

"But as we're well aware, we have an aging population," Charness says, "and that market is growing by leaps and bounds."

Next: New approaches to making it easier for seniors to log on. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Social Networking

Step-by-step instructions on how to use some of the Web's most popular networking sites. Go


How to Use Your PC

Guides covering everything from setting up your desktop, to getting the most out of Excel. Go


Protect Your Digital Life

Keep your computer secure, your web surfing safe, and your inbox spam free with these tips. Go


Discounts & Benefits

Geek Squad Computing

Members save on Geek Squad services with Geek Squad® Tech Support & Guidance for AARP® Members.

AARP Discounts on ADT Companion Services

Members get 20% off NEW installation and activation of ADT® Personal Emergency Response System.

AARP Discounts on Consumer Cellular Phones and Plans

Members save 5% on monthly service and usage charges with Consumer Cellular.

Member Benefits

Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change. Join Today


computer questions and tips

Computer Questions & Tips

Pick up some handy how-tos from this savvy group of techies. Discuss


Freebies Group

Favorite Websites & Freebies

Share your top sites for interesting information, helpful resources — and free stuff! Discuss