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Lyons: Greatest Generation must plug in or risk tuning out

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 11:41 p.m. CDT

One small part of journalists’ job is fielding reader calls often involving things that might never turn into news stories, although some useful bits of information are exchanged.

It’s sort of like being a librarian or an information switchboard operator, and we never mind pointing people toward credible, relevant information or toward resources whether in the interest of journalism or not.

We’re here to serve readers with information in a variety of ways, and while distributing information to the masses is our business model, we’ll serve them one at a time when we can, too.

We won’t and shouldn’t offer legal advice. We aren’t priests, psychoanalysts or counselors. Anyone willing to seek spiritual or personal advice from a newspaper editor, has deeper issues than any journalist can resolve. But information is definitely our trade.

So please don’t interpret this column as a complaint. It’s not intended to be, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting news or information by any means from their local community news source.

But I’m troubled when I speak with usually much older readers who tell me they’re unable to find the information they’re looking for because they don’t use a computer or the Internet.

I’m happy to help them find what they need and always do so either immediately or as soon as I’m able to do a .032-second Google search, but I’m sad that there still are people trying to function in 2014 without a hint of computer literacy.

And I’m also not trying to stereotype. I know plenty of seniors who are incredibly skilled on the Internet. I’d have barely recognized my late father-in-law without a laptop, and know other seniors who maintain their own blogs, are active on social media and take great pride in keeping up with technology.

The good news is that the phone calls come with less and less frequency. The best study I found on seniors and Internet uses was a 2012 Pew study showing that for the first time ever, more than half of seniors older than 65 are using the Internet or email.

Among those 53 percent of seniors older than 65 who report using the Internet, 70 percent say they use it in their daily lives.

It’s great that the trend is improving. While real life and face-to-face, voice-to-voice interaction will always be important, being able to communicate and find information online is vital and will become even more critical each year.

If you’re a senior reading this column on dead trees, I’m glad you’re reading newspapers and staying abreast of current affairs. But if you don’t use the Internet and think it doesn’t matter whether you do, I’d urge you to reconsider.

Sure, the Internet can be a tremendous waste of time, but so can TV and really bad literature. Eschewing the entire medium isn’t a logical reaction. There are 400 billions ways to waste time online, but there are also 400 billion useful ways to find what you need and make your life easier.

What I fear if this trend doesn’t continue to improve is that eventually we’ll start losing the voice of the Greatest Generation. Frankly, if you’re not communicating electronically, you’re speaking to a very small world. And this big world needs the perspective of older generations more than ever.

Don’t let fear stand in your way. Complete morons are able to communicate and navigate the Internet each day. Don’t believe me? I promise you’ll find them the first day you log on.

And don’t be embarrassed. Like any skill, someone had to learn it. I was never a Boy Scout, boater or farmer, so I can’t tie useful knots to save my life. No one taught me those skills, so I don’t have them.

McHenry County College and many libraries offer basic computer use classes. And it doesn’t take a pro to teach. Find another senior, friend or family member to help get you started. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed and will find freedom and independence that you never thought was possible.

At the very least, you could leave a comment at the bottom of this column telling me how much you disliked it or send me a Tweet or email suggesting that I consider roofing as a career change.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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