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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 15:44 GMT
Silver surfers brave the net
Clubroom, BBC
SeniorNet was first established in Wellington in 1992
Alfred Hermida

Thousands of older people in New Zealand are proving that it is never too late to become computer literate and enjoy the online world.

New Zealanders are great travellers and the grandparents find that a great way to keep in touch is through e-mail

Mike Read, SeniorNet
A project called SeniorNet is providing people over the age of 55 with user-friendly access to computers, e-mail and the web.

The community-based organisation is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. So far, it has 77 individual clubs and has introduced some 26,000 people to the world of computers.

"We had this one lady who was nearly 80, and she said it had literally changed her life," said 68-year-old Mike Read, a founder member and tutor of SeniorNet Hibiscus Coast branch.

Friendly classes

The aim is to reach out to older people who may feel they are being left behind by technology and the computer age.

Clubroom, BBC
Computer skills are taught in a friendly, non-threatening environment
"We run courses in all sorts of topics, in small classes of six to eight people with two or three tutors," Mr Read told the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

The courses are run by SeniorNet members who teach computer skills in a friendly, non-threatening environment adapting their methods as needs be.

"I've people say to me they've typed something in and then they sit with their hands folded and say nothing has happened," said Mr Read.

"When I tell them haven't press the Enter key, they say 'where's that'. So we renamed the Enter key as the 'Do It Button'."

Staying in touch

Mr Read has found that one of the largest obstacles stopping the elderly from using computers is the fear of the technology.

"Sometimes people are afraid to turn the thing on in case it disappears in a cloud of smoke," he said.

But once they have got over this initial hurdle, the computer skills acquired through SeniorNet groups are helping the elderly develop greater self-confidence, to feel more independent and overcome loneliness.

"New Zealanders are great travellers and the grandparents find that a great way to keep in touch is through e-mail," said Mr Read.

"A lot of people just join up to do that. They're not interested in web publishing or genealogy or any of the other things we do. They just want e-mail."

SeniorNet was first established in Wellington in 1992 with support from Telecom New Zealand.

It is an offshoot of the parent organisation, in the US, which emerged in 1986 from a research project at the University of San Francisco.

Telecom New Zealand provides a start-up package for SeniorNet groups, which includes two free telephone connections, two years free line rental, a NZ$ 1,500 establishment grant and free internet access for two years.

Clubroom, BBC
Mike Reed: Enter key is known as the "Do It Button"
See also:

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More than half of Britons log on
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