“But what if I burn it?” she asks.
“You mean crash it. You won’t,” I answer, reassuringly.
Standing only five feet tall, 71-year-old Mrs. O now surfs, rather adroitly. No, not the frosty Atlantic, but the Internet.
Six years ago, my town’s Elder Affairs Office released an urgent plea for volunteers. Until then, I had observed my grandparents struggling with the challenges of old age. They expressed a longing to be included in the twenty-first century and gain an understanding of modern innovations.
Enter the computer.
While my generation can use a computer as easily as a microwave or television, senior citizens are often intimidated by a machine that can process information faster than the human brain. The computer transcends cultural, linguistic, and geographic barriers and is undoubtedly a vital tool. Why should any population be precluded from using one simply because of age and society’s disinterest in taking the time to help?
At age 12, I offered to create a weekly computer technology course for senior citizens. Now in my final year of high school, I’m still instructing people at least 60 years my senior on how to create printable documents and greeting cards, how to send emails to loved ones in the military, how to manage taxes electronically, how to search for favorite recipes, and even how to store digital pictures.
Newspapers including the Boston Globe have featured my course and students, and while the recognition is flattering, it is not necessary. I have never considered accepting any compensation from my students (except for an apple that one woman gave me at the conclusion of our time together). What keeps me coming back year after year is the opportunity to see those who lack self-confidence and are often “shut in” finally muster the courage to try something new. Can they crack a computer code? No. Can they reassemble parts and upgrade their own central processing unit? No. But what they can do is far more impressive. In their final years, and with my basic guidance, they have become reacquainted with the world around them and mastered something that once seemed too complicated to comprehend.
As I embark on the next chapter of my life, I fear that my course’s sign-up list remains too long for me to accommodate everyone.
Enter my independent study.
Last year, I designed an independent study project with the objective of creating a comprehensive guide for future high school students to use in continuing to help the growing population of seniors in my town. The manual includes lesson plans, homework sheets, diagrams, and final examinations. This year, it is my hope that, along with the director of the Elder Affairs Office and my school’s technology teacher, I will be able to find a replacement who is willing to work with our town’s senior citizens.
I have one new voice message.
“Austin, it’s Mrs. O. I did it! When you get a minute, play your email!”
It’s nice to know I am still needed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.