Navigating simulator eases flight fears
Who: Retired advertising rep Doug Pelton, 70, of Wenatchee
Cache is king for GPS hobbyist
Who: Retired teacher Bruce Clark, 64, of Waterville. He and wife Cathy own and operate the Blue Rooster artisan bakery.
Mobile devices for mental fitness
Who: Retired legal secretary Helen Graham, 82, of East Wenatchee
WENATCHEE — At age 70, Doug Pelton likes to pilot his 737-400 jetliner from JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He loves the challenge of a long-distance flight plan, the chatter of air traffic controllers at international hubs and the mid-flight serenity of cruising at 36,000 feet along trans-Atlantic jet lanes.
Best of all, said Pelton, he never has to leave his home to see clouds zip past and the shoreline of France approach in the cockpit window. His racks of high-powered computers and multiscreen panoramic images make the flight simulation he commands about as real as it can get while sitting in his basement, sipping fresh coffee and patting the dog.
“This isn’t one of those games where you just twiddle a joystick,” said Pelton, a retired advertising rep. “It’s a complex merging of simulated and real-life data that only come together because of fancy software and an even fancier computer set-up.”
He flicks a switch to show runway lights blazing in the dark Paris night as the 737 circles the airport in preparation for landing. “This is one of those miracles of the electronic age,” he said. “And I love it.”
Embracing new tech, Pelton is part of a growing group of Americans aged 65 and up who break the stereotype that portrays seniors as spooked by whiz-bang devices — tablets, smartphones, computers — and the growing number of services those gizmos provide. Social media, online shopping and Internet searching head the list.
These savvy seniors in North Central Washington and across the U.S. have incorporated technology into how they play,work and keep in touch with family and friends. Email, texting, Facebook, YouTube and Internet search are the basics used by millions. But many more online seniors dive further into tech-deep pastimes such as video games, geocaching and, like Pelton, computer-created virtual worlds that blend the real with the oh-so-realistic.
Tech-hungry seniors fill local computer classes
Detailed statistics on local wired-and-connected seniors haven’t yet been compiled, but administrators and instructors of local computer classes and workshops for seniors say enrollment has surged in recent years to fill almost every classroom seat. Waiting lists abound.
“That whole cliche of getting grandkids to set the clock on your VCR or hook up a printer to your computer has pretty much disappeared,” said David Tosch, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Senior Center, which offers several computer classes and video game sessions a week along with a popular computer club for senior center members.
“We look around here and see members who are as tech-smart as the next person,” Tosch said. “They’re in their 60s, 70s and 80s and know their way around an iPhone or iPad just about as well as anyone.”
Findings released last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, an ongoing study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, showed that 53 percent of American adults 65 and older now go online almost daily for social networking, shopping and health advice. Some 69 percent own a mobile phone, and around 33 percent of online seniors use some form of social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. More than 90 percent of online seniors use email daily.
And many baby boomers (ages 55 to 64) are now entering “senior citizen” status as the most ever computer-literate and connected group of elders.
Amy Lewis, the program director for the Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance (GWATA), has taught “Computers for the Fearful” classes at Wenatchee Valley College since 2001. She said that every year her senior students seem to know more about computers, what they can do and how they can change a person’s life.
“I’d say about 70 percent of my students are senior citizens who are frustrated with the technology they face every day and want to learn to take control,” she said.
“A great many of them do. Most learn the basics, and many with a mind for gadgets and technology go far, far beyond that.”
Older students in her classes run the gamut, she said, from wanting to know how to turn on a computer to how to shop online to how to craft a video using a smartphone and Windows Movie Maker software. “I end almost every class surprised by how quickly some of the senior students have learned and advanced,” she said. “They just needed to be shown how to do it.”
Plus, Lewis said, the technology has gotten simpler, more intuitive and more inviting, which is a welcome change for the senior student. “For years, some older folks struggled with the hand-eye coordination needed for fast, efficient use of a (computer) mouse,” she said.
“To someone in their 70s or 80s, this was a pretty strange — and difficult — blend of body-mind stuff. Older hands can lose flexibility. Now I happily tell them, ‘Get an iPad! You only use your finger!’”
Use it or lose it
In East Wenatchee, 82-year-old Helen Graham said she’s been interested in computers and their possibilites since the early 1980s, when she pieced together a Texas Instruments kit that used an old black-and-white TV as a monitor. She figures she’s upgraded through eight computers since then as the technology improved and her skills sharpened.
Today, she surfs the Internet and stays connected with family and friends through her smartphone, several tablets and a laptop computer.
She uses Skype to keep in touch with her daughter in Spokane, conducts much of her personal banking online, follows eBay auctions for collectibles and has bought and read more than 200 books on her Kindle.
Graham, the wife of former Chelan County District Court Judge Robert Graham, said she and her husband just bought a 60-inch Vizio SmartTV that streams movies and favorite shows from Netflix and Hulu.
“We’re hooked on ‘Mad Men’ — would never think of missing Dirty Don Draper — and now can watch the show just about anytime we please.”
But, Helen Graham said, she mostly sees computer use as a way to stay mentally young and flexible.
“It’s a fact that we slow down as we get older and sometimes have no control over our physical ailments,” she said.
“But we do often have control over our mental muscles, and being mentally lazy isn’t good at any age.”
Graham said she believes many of her contemporaries have let the computer revolution pass them by and, in the end, have suffered for it.
“That great big world of information out there — all of it reached through computers — isn’t part of their lives. They’ve rejected it. They’ve missed it.”
Helen Graham said, “I love to learn, and I try to learn something new every day, and technology helps me do that. It keeps me current. It keeps me sharp. It challenges me every day with new and wonderful things.”