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Age no bar to loving and using e-mail

April 13, 2002 

Recently I was asked to photograph a going-away party at a nursing home. At the event, an 80-something woman asked for some copies of my work. I asked if she had an e-mail address, at which point she drew herself up to full height and said, "Well, of course!"

Clearly, e-mail isn't just for we youngsters who use it to speed up life's daily pace. Senior citizens, who may be perfectly satisfied to move at a slower rate, use the technology to stay in touch with friends and family; with nary a whiff of business.

The aforementioned Virginia Hawkins, a retired artist living in Silverdale, is a prime example of the new oldster. While others in her generation may lament the passing of the dial phone, Hawkins is already talking about the bad old days of computing, when she had her first e-mail account seven years ago.

"This fast Internet service is so much better for me," she said. "It helps me stay in touch with my family, in California and Arizona. If I wasn't using e-mail I'd have to call them long distance, so I wouldn't talk to them all that much because of the cost."

This includes her kids, who live close enough to call without long-distance charges. But they are, as people tend to be, pretty busy. So she writes them a few times a week in place of the obligatory "how are you?" conversations. And the process has brought her closer to her grandchildren, who get to see that Grandma doesn't have her head stuck in the past.

All this seems pretty normal and, by now, unexciting. But Hawkins has managed to add her own refrain to the same old song. Once a professional artist, she no longer paints but instead creates original images on her Macintosh. These gems are sent as attachments to her friends and family as unique gifts; who then print out and frame the images or install them in an honored place on the desktop.

"It really cheers me up to get messages in the morning," said Hawkins, who checks her e-mail box just once a day. "And it's getting more popular with people I know. They log on and make new friends through e-mail. Although I don't need to do that. I have enough friends."

Slow down again: Recently (Inbox, March 30), I put forth the idea that e-mailers were slowing down to a reasonable pace. Not so, says reader Skip Sailors, who thinks the tendency to go too fast online is entirely regional.

"I have been using e-mail since college in the early 1980s," he writes. "In all that time, this is the first place I have lived where slow, or what I like to call reasonable, response time was considered rude. I am not sure I see how this kind of behavior has been allowed to attain reasonableness, so I am missing something key in the Seattle culture."

Sailors' solution is somewhat low tech: If you need immediate response, just use the phone.

by Charles Bermant. Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

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