US seniors find it's never too late to learn social media

NEW YORK Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:38am IST

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Hodel/Files

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Hodel/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Seniors, some in their 90s, could soon be making new friends on Facebook thanks to New York libraries offering classes to help the elderly learn, or brush up their social network skills.

Carol White, 69, was already on Facebook when she enrolled in the "Facebook for Seniors" class at the Spuyten Duyvil Library in the Bronx. But she didn't understand how it worked.

Rosalind Licht, 76, was completely new to the social networking site and hoped the class would provide another way to stay in touch with family and friends.

"I understand that young people, the grandchildren, don't use e-mail very much now. They only use Facebook, specifically, so I feel it is another way of communication with them," she said.

Seniors are a growing demographic, with more than half of U.S. adults 65 and older online, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

For many elderly citizens, particularly those who live alone and far from their families, social networking sites offer new opportunities to stay in touch, share photos, make new friends or reconnect with old ones.

FRIEND REQUESTS, SECURITY CONCERNS

The Spuyten Duyvil Library is just one of many of the 87 libraries in New York helping seniors get connected. During his 90-minute course, Josh Soule, the senior librarian at the Spuyten Duyvil Library, explained what Facebook is, how to start an account and deal with notifications, newsfeeds, timelines and privacy issues.

The hands-on classes are popular and attract seniors of all ages. His oldest student was a 97-year-old woman.

"They are more tech savvy than they think they are," said Soule after teaching a class of five seniors - two men and three women. "They tend to be unsure of themselves, I find, and they need reinforcement and some tips about how to use it better."

After explaining the concept of "friending" and responding to requests on Facebook, Soule suggested that one woman accept a friend request after she recognized the person.

"It's my sister-in-law," she said. "I don't know if I want to friend her."

But someone else elicited a different response.

"This is my grandson. Him, I'm interested in," she said.

Soule, 36, started the free classes to meet the demand from seniors. He also teaches classes about Google, eBooks, basics of the computer and how to use mobile devices.

Although most students are enthusiastic and eager to learn, Soule does encounter an occasional skeptic. One woman said she didn't want to find anybody, or to be found.

"She is the first one I had who was leery about having an account. Most people just jump right in," he said, adding that there is a lot of information to absorb at once and can be overwhelming.

"They just want someone to show them the ropes," he said.

White, who came equipped to the class with her own iPad, found the lessons helpful.

"I have all this new technology, an iPhone, an iPad. They are all new and I don't know how to use any of them. I'm working on it," she said. "Why have it if you are not going to use it?"

White is already planning to attend Soule's next class on eBooks. (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Dan Grebler)

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