No matter if you are young or old, the quickly changing technology landscape can sometimes seem bewildering.
And for older Americans, in particular, mastering the use of computers and the Internet may not come intuitively — but the technology has boundless potential to enrich lives for grandparents and grandchildren alike. And learning how may be easier than you think.
"If my mother can learn the computer, anyone can," contends Abby Stokes, author of "Is This Thing On?" a handbook for computers and digital devices. Stokes has taught computing to thousands of people, mainly seniors, and believes overcoming a fear of technology is the first step.
Stokes offers some tips and information to motivate anyone to get started:
Email is basically like the postal service, only faster. Take advantage of free services through your Internet service provider, or a company like Yahoo or Google. Once you get going, you can write your friends and family instantly.
Better yet, talk in real time, face-to-face with loved ones around the globe. For example, a service named Skype lets you do this free of charge.
Use your computer to store photos and share them online. If you have a digital camera, upload the contents of the memory card onto your computer. If you have a film camera, your printed photos can be scanned into your computer and saved.
Easy-to-use software allows you to crop photos, remove red eyes from family portraits, and make other improvements to your pictures.
Surfing the Internet isn’t very different than channel hopping on your TV. There’s a lot of information out there, and not all of it is useful. In fact, no special credentials are needed to run a website.
A search engine like Google can help you find exactly what you’re looking for, whether it’s health research or celebrity gossip. You can access any information you want without leaving home. Many periodicals publish all their content on the Web free of charge.
See something you like? You can easily revisit sites you like by "bookmarking" them.
If you love your TV, you’ll love your computer even more. Many TV programs run complete episodes online.
And if you’re a film buff, you’re in luck. Online video rental sites are relatively inexpensive and allow you to watch movies online or order DVDs to watch later.
Poker champs and Scrabble lovers will be happy to discover that you can play almost any game you can think of online. You can either play against the computer or against other people sitting at their computers somewhere in the world.
"You don’t need to know how it works to work it," says Stokes. So learn to stop worrying and love technology.