Just a few years ago, Cindy Riley of New York City was intimidated by computers.
"I had a fear that if I touched a button it would mess up another button," she says.
Riley, now 70, was hardly alone in her trepidation about technology.
About one-third of Americans 65 and older don't use the internet, according to a study last year by the Pew Research Center. Even among those who use it, roughly one-third aren't confident when performing tasks online.
Riley was fortunate, though. About the time she was transitioning from full-time to part-time work, she learned about a program offering free tech classes to older adults. She signed up and not only overcame her fears, but also made friends with others facing the same challenge.
In today's connected world, the access and use of technology by older Americans is important to building and keeping a social network. A study by William Chopik, a professor at Michigan State University, found "greater technology use was associated with better self-rated health, fewer chronic conditions, higher subjective well-being and lower depression." The study also found that technology use reduced feelings of loneliness.
Thanks to the classes, Riley is staying more engaged with her social circle via her computer and her cellphone . She uses technology to text her grandchildren, other relatives and friends; to follow the news about her native Jamaica; to make travel reservations ; and to track down information that helps in her role as a volunteer New York City tour guide for Big Apple Greeters.
"The computer has become my education," she says proudly.
Technology training classes
Riley is an enthusiastic student at Senior Planet, a program run by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a New York City-based nonprofit that has offered more than 35,000 classes since it began in 2004. Senior Planet programs now operate in New York, Maryland and Florida, and they will begin in Colorado at the end of July.
"In 14 years, I have not been able to identify a single person that has not learned the technology," says Tom Kamber, founder and executive director of OATS.