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Digital Native... or Not?: Learning Computers Later in Life


Marc Prensky coined the term digital natives to describe those born after the advent of digital technology, circa 1980. He posits that they differ fundamentally from those who came before. To carry the natives analogy a bit further, Prensky suggests that even if we digital immigrants learn the language, we will always have an accent.

Lark Birdsong calls many adults older than 50 technological outliers—“people at the end of the curve for receiving information literacy instruction [and] who are getting little or none,” with the understanding that not just their age, but their schooling and training may have kept them from picking up technological skills. Carol Bean, in a post on her BeanWorks blog, reminds us that libraries have become a place of refuge for older adults caught in the digital divide. As the old familiar formats become less available and more information and entertainment goes digital, those in their 50s, 60s and beyond can become marginalized if they don’t pick up computer skills. They must learn!

Public libraries have risen to the challenge; library-based computer classes are widespread and older adults make up the majority of the attendees. Organizations such as SeniorNet, adult and continuing education programs, senior and community centers, and local nonprofit organizations such as Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Per Scholas also aim to cast wide the net and bring all those who are willing into the world of computers.

Besides offering computer classes and computers for free public use, libraries also offer books (surprise!), whether they be digital or in print, to take library users from computer illiteracy to proficiency. Novices can start with handbooks in all the series you would expect to give you an easy-to-understand foundation:

Absolute Beginner’s guides, Complete Idiot's guides, and the For Dummies series, as well as books in the impressive Teach Yourself Visually line. I think you’ll find both the shelves and the library catalog replete with senior-targeted titles too.

For instance, Nick Vandome’s Laptops for Seniors in Easy Steps: For the Over 50s will make you feel like a Cyber-Superperson! The clear and profuse illustrations, numbered steps with short instructions, and abundant tips and hints empower and motivate.

Studio Visual Steps books brings us the 2008 title, Interesting Online Applications for Seniors: Get Acquainted with Thirteen Free Internet Applications

You'll get a good grounding in YouTube, Google Earth, Facebook, RSS feeds, and several more applications you’re sure to find useful. The same publisher, a Dutch enterprise which specializes in books to support PC users, has produced several other equally accessible titles.

If you’re eager to travel—and which of us isn’t?—you may crave a more focused work like Sandy Berger's Great Age Guide to Online Travel.

This tech expert gives you personal comparisons and advice along with the best websites for travel near or far, whether by ship, motorcycle, or anything in between. You’ll also get clued in on scams, healthy traveling, and taking pets along.

I confess—I can’t resist a good title. And once I heard of "Is This Thing On?": A Computer Handbook for Late Bloomers, Technophobes, and the Kicking & Screaming, I had to seek it out. The content more than fulfills the promise of the title. When you start to read it, the book grows on you quickly, soon becoming a friend. The author even has an accompanying “hand-holding website” which multiplies the loveability of the book/site duo. The website, abbyandme, is loaded with frequently-asked questions (and answers!), tutorials, and well over 100 hand-picked websites. When we learned that the author, Abby Stokes, gives a non-intimidating yet info-packed presentation we asked if she would speak in some of our libraries. We happily announce that she agreed and will be speaking in ten branches of The New York Public Library through the end of December.

We hope you can join us for one or more of these but whether or not you can, check out your public library for technology-related books and other media, as well as the whole gamut of classes for all ages and stages.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Useful and beautifully

Useful and beautifully written, Brigid.

Great blog post, Brigid!

Great blog post, Brigid! Very cool that it was picked up by american libraries Direct.

Thanks for the heads-up

Thanks for the heads-up Elissa! You are very observant. . .

Spell check

Sorry to be obnoxious, but a good digital native would Google names to double check spelling. It's Marc Prensky, not Mark. I'd also like to take a moment to note that not everyone born in recent decades is a digital native. Many young people today struggle with using technology, not unlike their elders. ;) I love the outreach work NYPL does to help people learn to use technology! It's important.

Thanks for letting me know about Marc!

Your spelling correction is most welcome! And yes, the concept of "digital native" has been hotly debated and is by no means universally true. But I think the "digital immigrant" concept is on target.

Next Chapter Blog

Brigid, What a bouquet of activities and information you are compiling through this blog. It is quite wonderful. From older women movers and shakers to how to avoid financial scams. I always look forward to your next entry. Diantha

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