According to the federal government, citizens over the age of 65 represent the fastest-growing group of Internet users nation-wide.
Although these “silver surfers” are becoming increasingly connected, the learning curve is steep and many are unable to grasp the digital age completely.
However, a local initiative is trying to combat this by helping people of all ages get online safely and efficiently.
The Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre has hired 17-year-old local whiz kid Cameron Penney to conduct a number of bi-weekly workshops aimed at teaching computer skills to both Mac and PC users.
“We are starting to see a demand,” Penney noted.
“The workshops keep getting bigger and bigger through word of mouth.
“We want to be as accessible to everyone as possible so we added alternate times in case someone has a commitment during one of the workshops they’d like to attend,” he added.
With programs as diverse as basic computer skills, photo creativity, and password security to a special “ask the expert” seminar, Penney said lessons always are evolving so newcomers easily can join in while regulars constantly are learning.
He added even those with an intermediate level of knowledge can learn something new, as the last 20 minutes of each workshop is dedicated to answering questions posed by the group.
“I think it is a great opportunity for people to learn more about their devices because we can offer guidance and supply them with the skills required to be independent with their devices,” Penney remarked.
He added the participants all seem to be making progress.
“It is interesting to see because when some of them came in, they really didn’t like their product and found it frustrating because they weren’t easy to use,” Penney said.
“Now they are playing games, online shopping, and sending e-mails without a second thought.”
Penney noted while the basic tutorials foster proficiency with technology, they also teach participants about online safety.
“We see in the news often that there are lots of concerns with privacy and what happens online,” he explained.
“Some of the people coming in don’t realize that if someone gets into an account, it can cause quite a bit of damage,” said Penney, citing a hacked e-mail’s potential to spread a virus.
“There are safety precautions that you take in the real world,” Penney reasoned.
“What people don’t realize is that nowadays you also have to take safety precautions online to ensure you aren’t a victim of hacking and cyber theft.
“It is really important to educate people that might not be familiar with computers,” he stressed.
Linda Plumridge, who chairs Safe Communities-Rainy River District, reiterated this, referring to an annual review conducted by the group in May which identified Internet safety to be one of the area’s most prevalent issues.
“Because we have all this new technology and things are changing, we access it without always understanding the ramifications,” she said.
“Computers can be great things but they can be scary things, so how do we protect ourselves and manage resources?” she asked.
“We recognize that schools are doing a pretty good job of teaching students about online privacy, but there aren’t many resources available for those signing on later in life.”
Plumridge said that prior to the introduction of these workshops at the library, Safe Communities acknowledged a need for computer training to reinforce the importance of password security and online privacy settings.
“These themes fit within the programs being offered at the library,” she enthused.
“They do a lot of workshops and we think it is a great thing for people to be able to access or learn about technology.
“We can only hope people take advantage of this valuable resource,” Plumridge added.
“It’s free and if we don’t use, it we will lose it,” she warned.
The “Summer Tech Workshops” will run until Aug. 28 in the Shaw Room at the library.
For more programming information, call the library at 274-9879.