Silver surfers gain access to the world

Senior citizens are beginning to take an interest in the internet and its possibilities.

Couriers and postmen are no longer the messengers we rely on most for news from all over the world.

This content was published on November 20, 2003 minutes

At a time when emails and text messages are becoming a major source of news, Switzerland is offering support to those who still get lost in the world wide web.

The Swiss organisation for the elderly, Pro Senectute, is offering computer workshops for older people who may find the new technology daunting.

“Computerias” – informal centres where people over 50 can meet to learn more about computers – have been opened across the country.

“Interest in our ‘Computeria’ is amazing – we are very busy,” Heidi Voegli of Pro Senectute told swissinfo.

“Especially the workshops for emailing or photo and music editing are very popular.”

Hansruedi Keller, a Computeria manager in the Swiss capital Bern, thinks more women are interested in becoming computer literate than men.

“I don’t think it’s a statistical problem but men usually have more hobbies when they retire than women,” he told swissinfo.

Chat course

The Computeria also offers “chat” courses in its workshops, but Rosa Schütz, a 68-year-old from Thun, says she is not interested in online chatting.

“Chatting is for people who are alone and are looking for contact,” she said.

She has had a computer for years and uses it three times per week. “One of my daughters used to work in a computer company and we often talked about the new media at home. I was always keen on learning it myself,” she told swissinfo.

Schütz has now learnt enough to play Bridge with people all over the world, find information on different issues on the internet or just read articles she is interested in.

She even buys theatre or concert tickets on the internet and enjoys writing emails to her grandchildren.

“My husband did not want to learn it; he is not interested in computers. I am glad that I had the courage to do it, but in the beginning it was difficult to overcome my inhibitions,” she said.

Many elderly people are afraid of using a computer but they also need to get by in our modern world of internet, ticket machines and electronic telephone books.

Recent studies have shown that the digital divide does not only exist between the industrialised and the developing world but also between the young and the old.

Bridging the gap

According to the Federal Communications Office more than 65 per cent of 20-to-29-year olds regularly use the internet, whereas only 22 per cent of over 50 year olds regularly visit the world wide web.

In October this year, the Swiss government launched an awareness campaign dubbed “Tour de Clic”, which was mainly aimed at teaching the elderly how to use the internet.

Various institutions such as Pro Senecute and Seniorenweb offer courses for the elderly to enable them to take part in our modern world.

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein (translation: Billi Bierling)

Key facts

In 2006 every fifth person in Switzerland will be over the age of 65.
Sixty-five per cent of the 20-to-29-year olds regularly use the internet.
Only 22 per cent of the over 50-year olds use the internet, however, the number is growing.

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In brief

Internet and computer courses for the elderly are available at several institutions, such as Pro Senectute, Seniorenweb and Migros.

The “Seniorenweb” internet platform was launched in 1998.

There are 30 Computerias in 14 cantons serving as a meeting point for the elderly.

The first Computeria opened in St Gallen in 2002.

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