The Old Age Home(Page)
Jerry Nelson  

Bottom & links

This is a place for me to put what I've learned about growing old so far, besides that you die and everything costs money.   Obviously I haven't learned very much so far.  

1. Stan Hinden on the importance of Internet access for seniors, with useful, updated links at the end of his Washington Post article.

2. My rant on  the importance of PC literacy (below).  Send this letter to someone you know.

3. A checklist of things to clean up now before you think you can just "age in place"

Eric Teitelbaum, 1994 - The New Yorker

J. I. Nelson, Ph.D.


I  strongly urge you  to gain competence in PC usage before old age closes in.    

You cannot do this alone.  It must be a social endeavor.


The Golden (Expensive) Road is nice.  Find consultants and pay them $35/hr and up.  It's nice having a private tutor, reliable hand-holder, and a "secret weapon" for solving all problems as they arise.  They have to come over to the house and give you lessons on your machine, which might be a mess and need fixing up by them.  And you have to be able to phone them when needed -- but expect each call to be counted (billed). 

FINDING THEM.  Consultants can be found through companies in the phone book that service corporations with "office networks" or "information technology."  There will be younger, less-costly choices on, an internet-based classified ads service.  Choose your city on the Craig's List "select your city" page -- it will probably come up automatically forever after.  A good search to run is "PC support", but you want the support, you are not selling it, so either before or after running the search, look for a way to choose "services", not "for sale".  After searching, there are buttons at the top of the page to do this.

Most people do not have the get up and go to do this, others are frightened of the cost.  If YOU do it, you will be a local hero.  People  will be awed at your access, your secret knowledge source.   Invite them to join you for the next lesson  (and ask them to chip in).  Who knows?  You may wind up with running a business for your friends and their friends . . .


The normal approach is to take classes, benefit from the instructor, and make friends among fellow-sufferers.


You cannot do this from books, and you cannot do this alone.  You need to hire someone or meet someone through classes.  If you are up and running, put up a help wanted notice on the Internet instead of on the local supermarket bulletin board, although that works too.  Or just look at the listings on Craig's List for your city  under SERVICES/COMPUTER.           

When you are up and running, do not expect any help from the HELP facilities of either the PC or the programs loaded into it.  Always put your questions (puzzling terms, concepts) into a search engine and look for help on the Internet.  Everybody's favorite search engine is either google: (no need to type the "www's" in much less or  If you don't like google or my advice, then go type "search engine" into Google and let Google send you to dozens of their own competitors.

Why is help you can find in Google more helpful than the HELP facilities built into computer programs?

Because other users understand your suffering better than the snotty, underpaid, underage underlings assigned to write the HELP systems built into Windows and built into the applications program you have added to Windows.  After you know the answer, try to look it up in HELP.  Knowing the answer is sometimes a help in finding it, and, if you can actually find the answer to your question, you will gain insight into the quirks of the HELP system's design.  I'm not saying you will ever like it compared to the Internet, but who knows?  "HELP"  might help you.

There's always surprises.  If you find a book that helped you, tell me and I'll share it.


Any Microsoft Windows PC or Apple PC is fine.  Any desktop or laptop or tablet is fine.  The PC is the least of it.  Friends or consultants are more important. Ask what they got and say you want to get one too.  That kind of flattery could be the start of something. 

Get Internet access.  Either buy fiber or DSL ( from your phone company) for access to the world over their phone lines (DSL=Digital Subscriber Line--the old customer phone line with digital pushed over it), or buy a cable modem from your cable TV company for access to the world over their cable TV lines.  A smartphone has a small screen.  Smartphones are still phones, and data access over a cellphone or wireless system is expensive.  I'm not saying don't love your smartphone, I'm just saying treat yourself so something more comfortable and less costly for what might be hours of community and personal growth time on the internet. 

Compared to old-fashioned dialup modems, DSL or cable modem broadband offers:

  1. Faster speed.
  2. A service that is always on and ready for you.  If you have to log onto your DSL, cable, or fiber every time you power it up, you need to look for a more technologically competent and advanced internet service provider.
Let's talk about "always on".

Your new computer will have power management (automatic "sleep mode") and you can leave it on permanently.  You will find that listening to the news at dinnertime sends you to Google to find out more.  A conversation sends you to the Web to settle a question or show you pictures of what it looks like, or find out what it would cost.  You will just love this.  But if you have to boot up, you won't even try. 

Broadband is always on, you ask, it tells you.  Suddenly you are younger, your mind has any information it needs.  


It is over 35 years since I got my first PC (late 1980).  What has changed to make this a priority action item now?

It is not the better pricing -- the value received for dollar spent will continue to rise. There is always the excuse to do nothing because it will be cheaper later.  This has not changed.

What has changed is networking.  Because PCs are now connected to each other and to larger computers that "serve" them things for you to see and do,  PCs are the new road to human contact, the essential road to human contact.   Why now?  Networking.  


Old age means isolation.  If all your friends are dead, you need new ones.

Old age means limited mobility.  If you can connect with zero effort and no cost to anyone, then you can get around.  

If today, people "connect" by typing messages to each other (e.g., e-mail), then I promise you that shortly they will be able to talk, to see each other, to visit a city together and look around, check the history of what they are seeing, and go shopping there, while each is in reality just sitting in his/her favorite chair and effortlessly chatting.

Old age means greater difficulty in dealing with those who serve and exploit us.  If you can quickly get the information you need and apply pressure in the right places, you can get wrongs righted a little faster.  If you can get the low-down dirt on anyone or anything, you don't have to get taken for a ride by others who assume you are a push-over. 

Old age means political power because we older and wiser people are the ones who understand The System.  Networking on modern networks with others like us is the way to combine and apply our power.  However, some people are unprepared for this.  They have never gotten past whom they hate in order to craft some kind of model of how a society works or does not work.  Theirs is still a politics of personalities only.  You may have a lot of teaching to do.  Not persuasion, teaching.

Old age means failed memory.   Until they fail catastrophically (computers always fail catastrophically -- unlike an old house, they are NOT subject to graceful degradation) -- until they fail, computers never forget and it's easy to search and find things.  Write down what you need to keep track of, and open the "garden" or "neighborhood" document again and add to the bottom of it.  Any word processor program has a search facility. 


Everything you get on a PC (a new piece of mail) or add to a PC (a photograph) or create on a PC (your memoirs) is physically just one more file on the hard drive.  It is easier to make a spare copy of all this stuff if you know where it is, and if it is all in one place.  

To deal with the catastrophic failures of computers, learn how to keep everything you create/write in one place, in one folder on the disk, or in folders inside the top folder.  DON'T LET PROGRAMS PUSH YOU AROUND -- YOU MUST KEEP YOUR PROPERTY IN A PLACE OF **YOUR** CHOOSING.  When any program offers to "save" what you just did, stop dead in your tracks and give some thought to where on the hard drive you will be saving it. 

If you have a top folder and everything you create/write is kept inside it (below it on the tree of folders), then one click to copy that top folder can give you a copy of everything, give you a backup someplace else.   

Having a top folder doesn't mean having only one folder.   Inside DOCUMENTS are /LETTERS  /MEMOIRS   /LISTS.   Inside /DOCUMENTS /LETTERS is /2017  /2018.   This form of organization is called a hierarchical directory tree.

On the other hand, if you are a slob and drop everything anywhere on the machine and don't care, then you will have to spend money and time on programs that copy the entire computer for you.  You will have to pay your consultant to protect you from yourself. 

I have even seen people who drop everything onto the desktop -- a sea of little icons.  Perhaps no one ever showed them how to go to their main drive ("the C drive"; if you had two, the second one would be "D") and start a folder . . . which you can name anything you want . . . . THISISIT would be a great start. 

It is your choice.  Easy (slobby) now, and hard later, or clean living every day.  
Doug Reina, 2000 - The New Yorker  


GEEZERS NEED COMPUTER COMPETENCE BECAUSE networked computers permit every member of society to enjoy richer human contact, entertainment (did I mention movies?), and ready access to the cultural triumphs of our civilization for personal contact and professional advancement.

This is more than a library card.  You need this.  


Answer: digital convergence.

Movies, television, photography, music in the home, telephoning, writing letters are all going digital.

And they are all combining with one another.

Call it converged entertainment and communications, or "convergence".  We can hope for more specialized, easy-to-use appliances. Convergence matters; it saves money and enhances life. Convergence enriches contact with the things we love.  Convergence is also an avenue of discovery, a doorway  to new things.  How can this not matter?   If you aren't experiencing anything new, you might as well be dead.

Convergence will facilitate what we already like to do.

We all like sitting on the couch and looking at a photo album together with friends.  The friends sit close, and we can talk to each other and point to people and places in the photos.   If we like this, then networked computer systems will make it possible, will support it,  except we can be sitting on separate couches, on different continents, sharing the album and each other's company.  Facebook has tried to capture some of this, but, instead of a couch with friends, it provides a refrigerator door in the office break room or even a graffiti wall  on the street.   They feed  your ego (they "friend"  you) and own all the data.

There can be community in watching a favorite show or game together -- we are together on the network, and both/all watching the same thing. Eventually we will be able to "meet up"  with a friend (on the network) and decide for ourselves which famous European city to "visit" (look at and shop in).  When it comes, it will be more fun than turning on the tube and watching a canned show that has been prepared for us to watch.  When we get closer to virtual reality, it will be more fun to "travel" with friends than to pay for a real tour that packages us into a  cookie-cutter trip.

On our virtual tour, we cannot be forced to buy from company-affiliated stores.  We can shop anywhere, or not shop at all and look at any artist we choose and stop to read any biography or history we find interesting  We can grow.

The future can't come fast enough for those who understand the technology.   I hope you feel the same way.  


There is a larger story here about the  times in which we all live.  This is a story about three revolutions. 

The successive revolutions of our time have been in:
  1. computers
  2. networks and
  3. the distribution and sharing of information
There is a simple relationship among the three revolutionary trends.

The computers and chips came first (1960 to now).  Chips made cheap computers possible.  

When it became necessary for corporations (1980s) and then for consumers (2000) to connect their computers to one another, the chip and computer technologies were available to create the new, data-oriented (not voice-oriented) networks to connect those computers.  These data-oriented networks left the nation's voice-oriented infrastructure for dead.

When the networks spread globally (and storage costs plummeted), information spread freely.  First it spread to corporate employees, and entire layers of middle managers were fired -- obsolete, not needed anymore.  As the networks got better, they spread to music, movies and all media ("convergence", right?), and consumers started to use them.  

Dean Vietor, 1994.  The New Yorker.  


I spent more money to get on board this train than you have to, but it was worth it to me.

Since my use of PCs has enriched my life as much as an elite liberal arts education, more than a trip to Europe to see friends, more than the photographic darkroom I built,  more then the records (LPs CDs) I ever collected, more than all the shelves of scholarly journals I ever subscribed to in heavy, hard copies,  etc etc etc I do not think many thousands of dollars was  too much to spend on computer and communications equipment.  You may see it differently.  But you can get the computer for between $500 to only one thousand dollars, and DSL or cable modem Internet access for under $40/month.   If you are buying airplane tickets to Europe, a new car or a cruise and you haven't taken care of these communications necessities to insure your future, then you have your values screwed on backwards.  The networked PC comes first.   Change your mind and begin the journey.


Or rather, why does this take friends, or a paid friend (consultant)? 

The technological revolutions which have transformed our times and which once made the United States a world leader (until the politicians screwed everything up) have proceeded very fast.  The fast pace of change has made it impossible for the formal and written culture (schools and books) to digest what is going on, to extract the essence in a compact form that can be taught, to get things settled before the knowledge evaporates in the winds of change. 

Also, it takes time for patterns of menus and ways of doing things to become "cultural", to grow to be the same on all systems.  How to lay out a car is now cultural, there are none left that steer with a stick (although airplanes certainly do).  You can rent a car in a distant airport and drive it away without a crash.  Slowly, little computer-based appliances and big ones too are becoming like that.  A favorite example is "ENTER".  Slowly and subconsciously we are all coming to realize that there has to be a big ENTER or TRANSMIT key somewhere, that composing an answer must be followed by SENDing it away to headquarters.  One more fundamental pattern becomes universal and a part of our culture. 

Tech culture is a social culture, a culture of story-telling.  High tech is a village-based, pre-written culture.   
You have to find other people to explain it to you.  Yes, it is an interesting paradox: the most advanced part of the civilization is the most primitive, a spoken culture.  

Roz Chast, 2001.  The New Yorker.

The technology for computers and networks and a global planet is settling down. 

Computers are no longer changing so fast, because electronics is no longer changing so fast.  There will be time for the world to figure out what functions are most needed, and to drop the rest.  The needed functions and how to use them will become standardized.  But today, communications (the Internet, fiber, DSL and cable modems) is still chaos.   I suppose that is a good sign, because it means we won't be stuck forever with the mess we have now.

Finally, everything is still so complicated because people who want and need to become users do not tell manufacturers that their HELP systems are no help at all, do not tell Microsoft that their programs are full of crap they do not need, do not complain that it is ridiculous that the system can't remember what they need to do and how they do it every day, considering that each machine has more memory than the entire membership of the AARP put together (AARP = American Assoc of Retired Persons), more than the biggest university computers in 1972.  Older people are better at complaining.  Enjoy being yourself, speak up. 


Loss of contact with the major developments of one's own time is the beginning of the end.  Fight it.
Sam Gross, 1995 -- The New Yorker  
The Cartoon Bank sells these cartoons

top of this page (home page for notes on aging)                  
Stan Hinden's WashPost article, also emphasizing computer use by seniors
My checklist for aging in place

home of this whole, miserable site

Rev 5/09, 6/16, 1/2017