Tech boomers

New initiatives have senior citizens logging on to computers.

Boomersurf’s Paula Adelman 521 (photo credit: (Patricia Carmel))
Boomersurf’s Paula Adelman 521
(photo credit: (Patricia Carmel))
In 2011, on her way back to Israel from the States, Paula Adelman was visiting family when she found her cousin struggling to communicate with her grandson over Skype.
“She was talking at the screen and he kept shouting, ‘I can’t hear you, I can’t hear anything.’ She told me that she couldn’t figure out why no one ever hears her on Skype. She didn’t realize that all she had to do was attach an external mike to her computer,” Adelman recounts.
“Well, she was happy with the solution I gave her, but then she told me, ‘We have so many Internet and other computer issues, and I’m afraid we’re going to lose touch with our grandchildren if we don’t learn to keep up,’” she continues. “‘But you have four tech-savvy children. Why don’t you ask them to help you?’ I asked her.
“‘Because we have so many questions, and even though they try to explain how to do things, as soon as we’re on our own, we forget. I’m afraid to keep asking the same questions over and over, because they get impatient with us and it makes us look so stupid.’” Originally from New York and a former golf professional – an unconventional career choice for a woman of her generation – Adelman was first exposed to the Internet in 1995 when, as manager of the Golf Learning Center at the Wingate Institute, she was given access to the emerging world of hi-tech.
“I had no idea what the Internet was, so I set about learning about it with the help of my son, who was 13 at the time,” she says.
“As the years went by, incidents like that with my cousin became common. People were always asking me for help, and I realized that I was way ahead of my generation in using technology,” she recalls. “I saw that there’s a real need to provide support to baby boomers who want to perform those everyday tasks that younger people take for granted, such as talking on Skype, using Facebook, buying items through the Internet.”
According to Adelman, “most help sites start at step 1 or step 1.5, whereas the baby boomer needs to start from step 0. For instance, they might know how to use Skype, but they aren’t able to figure out how to increase or decrease the volume level. For young people who have grown up with the technology, working out this sort of thing is second nature.”
In 2012, Adelman was one of 10 applicants accepted to an accelerator program under the auspices of Gevahim, an umbrella organization that offers skilled olim and returning citizens the opportunity to connect with people of talent and initiative in the Israeli market.
“They were looking for people, especially women, with ideas for startups, and I thought that this would be a perfect environment to develop my idea of a website for baby boomers that would give them the information they need to navigate the world of technology. I’d already bought a domain name – originally the site was going to be called Gadget Helpers! – but I was advised to change the name to something more friendly, so I renamed it Boomersurf.”
She and her fellow entrepreneurs, dubbed “The Hive,” spent six months in workshops learning how to get their startups off the ground. The Hive was given office space and like-minded people to interact with, as well as guidance in the legal and accountancy ramifications inherent in setting up a business, and the opportunity to network with key people in the country’s economy. The period culminated this past January with The Hive participants giving five-minute presentations to public figures, venture capitalists and people with a potential interest in the range of projects.
“I got an interesting response to my presentation from a Japanese businessman looking for a startup to invest in,” recalls Adelman. “He asked me when I would be launching my website, because he wants subscriptions for Japan’s substantial aging population. And then he laughed and said he wanted an immediate subscription for his parents.”
On completion of the program, she began to develop her product and build her team.
“Using contacts I’d met through The Hive and others from my own personal database, I began to build a team of like-minded experts – people who had the skills I needed and the mentality required to implement my vision of creating a site where baby boomers would feel safe to ask any question and get the help they need,” she says.
Her team consists of a number of professionals who, over a number of months, have volunteered their time and expertise to develop
They include IT specialists, developers, technical writers, bloggers, an editor, and several advisers from the world of technology and marketing. IT and networking specialists Michael Cina, Beau Schutz and Dan Gafni handle calls on almost a daily basis from boomers looking for help. Schutz – a.k.a. Israel’s PC Doctor – who has volunteered his services since Adelman first approached him, is enthusiastic about Boomersurf, declaring that “it’s a service whose time has finally come!” The site, now in the final stages of implementation, offers one-on-one, live communication, and printable tips combining step-by-step instructions with screenshots and video.
“If our tips and video don’t provide enough information, boomers can call our tech support personnel – in both Israel and the States – for a one-on-one walk-through of their problem with screen sharing; screen sharing allows our technical guys to display the boomer’s desktop on their own screen so they can see exactly what the boomer sees. They can then control the screen to identify why something isn’t working the way it should and explain how to perform some task. Right now, we are still testing the tips, using a number of testers who represent the typical baby boomer. Their feedback has been invaluable,” says Adelman.
One tester, Maddy Levine from Ra’anana, has found the experience illuminating. Calling the site “excellent,” she says it is “encouraging to have someone answer my questions in a way that I can understand the answers. Just from testing, I’ve learned so many new things.”
Adelman has not yet launched a major marketing campaign because she has relied, quite successfully, on word of mouth, email among friends and acquaintances, Facebook, and a strong network of baby boomers in Florida and Arizona, where there’s a core group that is spreading the word.
“Eventually I’m hoping the site will become a virtual community, so that whenever boomers are stuck or have a question, they can log in and talk with other boomers who are online at the same time, ask their question, and the more tech savvy among them will be able to respond,” she says. “We also want to build forums in different areas of interest where boomers can contribute their own experiences and specialists can offer advice, such as what to do with your phone when going abroad.”
Although at a later stage, the site will offer different languages, Adelman is focusing on the English-speaking world for now. The target market in the States represents 44 percent of the population – 79 million people who control 70% of disposable income. Baby boomers have the money to spend on upgrading their equipment, and they want to get the most out of it. Through, they will have access to ongoing help.
“I don’t think any one of us understood how much would open up the world to people, how it affects their lives, gives them an opportunity to keep up with their kids and grandchildren. Our testimonials page includes comments from many grateful users. One woman wrote that she’d been asked to send a link to someone and she had no idea what a link was. She’s a department head and was simply too embarrassed to tell the person she didn’t know what a link is.
“Another boomer told me that she couldn’t understand why comments she wrote on Facebook never appeared on the page,” says Adelman. “She was surprised when she was told she has to press ‘Enter,’ b e c a u s e nowhere on the page does it say you have to press ‘Enter.’ I think that the more tech savvy among us tend to forget that what is obvious to us is alien territory to others. And that is why was created.”
Computers are for all ages Thanks to Malka Segal, the elderly are logging on and loving it.
Throughout her professional life, Segal has been an educator, running the gamut from home room teacher to high school principal. For the last 10 years, this diminutive and energetic woman has been teaching computers to the elderly in community centers from Gush Dan to Netanya.
“Elderly people can function in today’s world and keep up with their children and grandchildren if given the right tools – and the most important tool is the computer,” she asserts. “I don’t accept that there are people who can’t learn how to send an email, surf the Web, etc., whatever their age.”
Her students, both men and women, range in age from 55 to over 100.
“One of my oldest students began learning computers with me when she was 95 years old,” Segal relates. “The fingers on her hands were so badly gnarled, it was very difficult for her to manipulate the mouse. But she persevered because she was determined to publish a book.
To date, she’s published three books of children’s stories.”
According to Segal, her students love what they’re doing.
“They come to the first lesson full of anxiety that they’re not going to succeed, but then they begin to grasp how to control the computer; they send emails, use Facebook, talk on Skype, surf the Web,” she says. “Suddenly, for those living on their own, they have a friend at home, something to keep them connected to the world.”
She adds that “many of my students tell me that they no longer feel stupid at the Friday night meal when their children and grandchildren start talking about the Internet. Now they can join in the conversations, use tech-speak. One student told me that her grandchildren look at her differently since she started attending my class.
“And some of my students,” she says, beaming, “go to online dating sites to look for partners. And sometimes they find someone; they find love.”
Over time, it became apparent to her that while her students would grasp how to perform certain computer tasks in the classroom, they’d forget how to do those tasks by the time they got home.
“These are intelligent people,” she says, “who would suddenly lose confidence in themselves.”
Her solution was to publish a user guide a few years ago for Windows XP and Word 2003, geared specifically toward this target audience. Computers for All Ages is a visually pleasing user guide that includes step-by-step instructions with screenshots and clear graphics to illustrate what users can expect to see on their screen when they complete each step.
One year ago, she published a sequel for Windows 7 and Word 2010. The guide is organized into clearly marked sections for easy navigation, including an introduction to the computer and how to use the Internet to surf, write emails, sign up to Facebook, etc.
“I use the book in the classroom as well,” says Segal. “It’s a great tool for instruction because if I’m teaching, for example, how to import a picture into Word, I can say to my students, you can find all the information in the Word section on Page 186.”
The book is currently published only in Hebrew, but Segal is negotiating with a publishing house for an English translation.
Computers for All Ages can be downloaded from Segal’s website: http://
The book will be available from Steimatzky sometime in early 2014.