Hail the silver surfers!

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Hail the silver surfers!

If you ring the door bell of 59-year-old Padmaja Raj’s Jayanagar house around 4.30 pm on a weekend, you might just interrupt a story-telling session. That is the time she sometimes tells stories of stupid crocodiles and cunning foxes to her 10-year-old grandchild, while her daughter is busy in the kitchen. Regular grandparent stuff, you would say. But, there is a catch. She does it on Skype voice call. While granny is in Bangalore, the kid is hundreds of miles away in Kuala Lumpur.

 Padmaja is just one of the growing tribe of silver surfers – senior citizens – who have learnt to draw smileys, use search engines and handle social network accounts to keep pace with a changing world. “I had never used a computer till eight years back,” Padmaja says. “When my daughter got married and left for Kuala Lumpur I had to learn out of necessity because it was the fastest way to keep in touch with her.”

Padmaja not only emails and makes phone calls, she also downloads pictures from her camera, edits and puts them on a DVD, transfers them to her mobile and makes comments on her friends’ walls on Facebook. The internet has been an amazing experience for her. “When I was growing up we would book an STD call and wait the whole day for it to get through. Now, I can see my daughter on web cam and talk to her in seconds, though she is so far away. It is an ‘Oh my God’ thing for me,” she says.

 Meanwhile, almost every evening, in the small town of Kotdwar in Uttaranchal, slim, short-haired Maya Pathak, who recently turned 59, laces her sneakers and calls out to her Lhasa Apso Losty. Losty and she then set out on a walk along the river that flows past their green-roofed bungalow. Maya makes sure she gets back in time so that dinner is out of the way by 8 pm. She then sits down at her desktop to check mail, read interesting forwards and chat with her two children if she can catch them on Facebook.

“Life was lonely after I lost my husband some years back. But my son got me a computer soon after he left to join the Army. I learnt to use it; got a broadband connection and now I don’t know how time passes. Sometimes I sit down on the internet at 8 am and it’s 11 am by the time I realise I haven’t even had a bath,” she says. In her sleepy two-horse town, there aren’t many in her age bracket who are computer literate. A retired DIG is her only Facebook friend in the older age group, she smiles. “Most of my friends are young children – nephews, nieces, kids of friends. Facebook is a nice way to keep in touch with them.”

 At Solan in Himachal Pradesh, when distinguished-looking, grey-bearded, smartly-turbaned Col DS Randev (60) strides into his workplace he commands attention. A Commando Dagger (best in course) as a young captain, a respected Commanding Officer of his parent regiment, a member of the famous Army expedition to Antarctica, adulation is not new to him. But this time it comes for entirely different reasons. He can match most of the youngsters in his workplace when it comes to being computer savvy.

Vice-President of a battery manufacturing plant, post retirement from the Army, he works in a paperless office where intra and the internet are the ways to correspond. “All office staff, including old-timers like me,” he smiles, “are required to be conversant with routine computer applications.” Col Randev uses computers for internet, emailing, record keeping, data management, engineering applications like Auto CAD, project monitoring and inventory control. The reason why he is so comfortable with computers is that he has been exposed to them since 1981 when he joined IIT Delhi for his M Tech.

“That was the time when computers were not too common and only a few premier institutions had installed Main Frame Computers. Data and programmes were punched on cards, off-line, and fed in. Debugging of programmes was a Herculean task as a long list of inter-related syntax and semantic errors would emerge on the slightest mistake in data entry or programming,” he reminisces.

“Now, of course, push-button technology has ushered in an era of learning.” The officer, who spent many weeks at sea on the way to Antarctica years ago, says the internet has shrunk the world and reduced it to a global village.

While Col Randev says he hardly gets time for social networking, Kolhapur-based retired Col Hari Patil (70) says that is what he uses his computer for the most. Both his daughters are based in the US and he has a son in the Army, often posted in far flung areas. Col Patil uses the internet to keep in touch with his family. Learning was not so easy, he confesses.

“I didn’t know how to type and had to take some typing lessons on a visit to the US. Initially, when I opened the internet I would get stuck and not know what to do. So I would give up and wait for my daughter or son-in-law to come home and explain things to me.”

He has come a long way since. He has started downloading pictures from his camera and has learnt to save them. He spends free time going through those pictures and reliving those memories. “I even use email to send birthday greetings to my friends, though I still can’t make smileys! I try to send them cards as well, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he laughs.

 When it comes to information dissemination Jaipur-based Sitaram Pareek, retired Additional Director, Agriculture Extension, Rajasthan, nearly matches up to his favourite search engine Google. He can recount offhand when computers first came to India, how much a Macintosh used to cost and exactly when IBM launched Windows. A knowledge wiz, the gentle-faced, smiling septuagenarian can often be found googling research material for the agriculture-related talks he gives in colleges and on Doordarshan. “Young people know so much these days that I have to work very hard to match up,” he smiles modestly. He quips that he had a Pentium 4 when his son bought a Pentium 3. “I always felt the need to keep abreast with latest technology, but I am slow. My sons are so quick with computers that when I ask them something it is impossible to follow their instructions,” he says. A staunch propagator of modern technology, he says in his evening sojourns at the neighbourhood park with retired friends he frequently implores them to start using a computer.

 “Most of them have tried but feel they can’t learn now. To them my advice is that don’t learn from young people, learn from someone your own age. Youngsters are so fast with these things that it is very difficult to keep pace with them”.

What is more, he even volunteers to let them use him computer and “if they don’t mind, my services as well”, he says. Since the offer even has a piping hot cup of tea thrown in, we wouldn’t be surprised if the population of silver surfers multiplies rapidly in Jaipur!

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