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New Technology for the Old

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If your grandfather thinks he is too old for Facebook, Gmail and SMS, then for once at least, he is seriously mistaken.

My 85-year-old grandmother died last month. The day before she passed away, she had one last wish: to see her grandchildren. They live in California. No sweat. Soon, using my laptop and portable internet connection, we were on Skype, with my grandmother happily peering down the computer screen looking at her grandchildren waving to her from their living room.

She wasn’t the only very senior citizen using technology for more than just medical monitoring. Fact is, computers, social networks, email and chat are becoming essential parts of older peoples’ lives. And although challenges remain for many older people, any number of products can help them become more involved in the digital age. Here’s a look at three popular ones.

The PC: while digital devices like cameras or cellphones don’t require a PC, their visibility and ease of use can be enhanced with one. For those concerned that Microsoft’s Windows interface is too daunting for elders, Big Screen Live simplifies the standard interface, making it easier to send email messages, surf the web, share photos, shop online or play games.

Cellphone: in the US, mobile phone companies offer special models for older people, with louder audio and simplified keypads. Indian telcos would do well to take a leaf out of, for example, jitterbug.com. The company offers a cellphone with large, easy-to-read buttons and displays and also allows customers to have an operator dial the calls for them and add addresses to their contact list.

Email: for less than Rs 250 a month, Appa can transmit and receive mail through pawpawmail.com, which features simple graphics, large type and real names rather than potentially confusing email addresses. From the personal experience of setting up one such account for my 70-year-old uncle, I can tell you that such sites are a welcome introduction for old folk back home trying to keep in touch with their children abroad.