In Wi-Fi Intoxicated Manhattan, a Generation of Teetotalers
By CARA BUCKLEY
Published: October 19, 2012
Mary Kipin, 82, has a computer, but all she really uses it for is to play bridge. Marie Mutz, also in her 80s, is eager to find out what a PDF is — “I’m waiting for my neighbor to tell me,” she said. Sally Anderson, 78, has been promising herself a new computer for years — her old one was a dial-up that spent the bulk of the early aughts gathering dust. “I did send a few e-mails,” Ms. Anderson, who lives near Gramercy Park, said. “The first one I sent 16 times.”
Thus did the three women find themselves in a ground-floor room, bathed in fluorescence, on Thursday atthe First Presbyterian Church, in Greenwich Village, just north of Washington Square Park. Every month the church hosts a seminar as part of its Aging Well series, and on this night the topic was “What’s Wi-Fi and Do I Really Need a Smartphone?” New York may be one of the most wired, smartphone addicted-slash-addled cities in the nation, but the pace of the technological leaps has left a lot of older people behind, wondering what they were missing and whether it was worth finding out.
About three dozen people attended, most in their 70s and 80s. Many came armed with answers of their own. Whatever Wi-Fi was, it sounded a little scary, untrustworthy or hopelessly complicated. As for smartphones, they had turned people, body snatcher-like, into distracted drones.
“They’ve dropped out of social intercourse on the street,” said Bob Moran, a 76-year-old mostly retired social worker who owns a dying computer but no cellphone.
Mr. Moran said he cursed out people who chatted on smartphones in restaurants or who texted their way down sidewalks, heads in that telltale bend. “I think it’s going to end badly, this lack of contact in the world,” he said.
Sandy Guzik, 72, proud to own neither a smartphone nor a cellphone, was there “so I can tell people even more about why I don’t want one.”
“People say, ‘What if there’s an emergency?’ I say, ‘There’s nine people around me who have one,’ ” she said. “I’ve never had that emergency, and neither have they.”
“I’ve seen children neglected,” she added darkly. “I’ve seen friends neglected.”
Several others said they were there for the light dinner that was served beforehand — $7 a head for cold cuts on baguettes with tortilla chips, soda, coffee and a pastry. Still, the place really filled in at 6:45 p.m., when the seminar began.
Robert Finkenthal stood before them, a technology trainer at NYU Langone Medical Center who spent six years working at a nonprofit organization that specialized in teaching technology to older people. Many of his elderly students felt fearful or anxious about technology, he said beforehand, or were embarrassed about not being in the digital mainstream. “The worst is not knowing what it is, not knowing how to get there, and knowing that everyone around you is completely hooked in,” Mr. Finkenthal said.
PowerPoint slides glowed on a roll-down screen. Mr. Finkenthal explained what smartphones were, and what the differences between them were, and what apps were.
“Has anybody heard of Angry Birds?” he asked. Murmurs followed. Not one hand went up.
He moved onto Wi-Fi.
“WiFi,” a seminar participant wrote on a pad of paper, adding the phonetic pronunciation for Wi: “Y.”
After an hour and a half, Mr. Finkenthal took questions. Do all smartphones have Internet connections? Is there a way to turn the Internet off? Did he use a headset and was he concerned about radiation? Could you watch an Audrey Hepburn movie on your phone?
Afterward, the Rev. Richard Pease, who organizes the seminars, thanked Mr. Finkenthal, saying, “I’m too old to understand this, but I think it’s great.”
The audience began filtering out. Ms. Guzik said the seminar reinforced her resolve to never get Wi-Fi. The Internet was addictive enough, she said; when she logged on at libraries, whole afternoons vanished.
Ms. Anderson said that when she did get around to buying a computer, she would be sure to get wireless, to obviate the need for wires.
Robert McCarl, 81, found it terrifying that smartphones could pinpoint the user’s location. “They could put a bomb on your head anytime,” he said. Who could? “Your enemies,” he replied. “Your slobbering enemies.” Still, Mr. McCarl deemed Mr. Finkenthal’s presentation “terrific.”
“It was fascinating,” he said as he rose to leave. “But it’s not my generation, so I didn’t know what he was talking about half the time.”
A version of this article appeared in print on October 20, 2012, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: In a City Drunk on Wi-Fi, a Generation of Teetotalers.
In Wi-Fi-Intoxicated Manhattan, a Generation of Teetotalers - NYTimes.com
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