As technology surges forward each year, older Americans without proper computer skills or internet knowledge are wondering: Is it too late to learn? If you’re less than confident in your tech skills, just know that you’re not alone — 33% of adults think it’s too difficult or they’re too old to learn — and there are plenty of resources designed with you in mind. Once you’re online, like many seniors, you’ll find that computer and internet use can be a fun, easy way to accomplish everyday tasks and stay connected with your friends, family and community.
Best internet uses
The internet is a big place which means there are plenty of ways to use it. Check out a few ways older internet users just like you are taking advantage of their internet connection.
Research and browsing
The internet is a great place to learn. Even if you don’t know the exact web address of what you’re looking for, popular search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing put the contents of the internet at your fingertips. On the homepage of your favorite search engine, you can type in whatever you’re looking for to get a quick list of credible results filtered from a massive online database. The results on the first few pages of your search are often the best places to look for the information you desire. Here are a few examples of phrases you can type in your search:
- Pharmacy near me
- Sugar-free desserts
- Handymen in Charlotte, NC
- When is Easter 2019?
Banking and bill pay
Online banking is another popular internet use, as many institutions offer most in-person features online and some exclusive ones too. Set up overdraft protection alerts so you’re never at risk of overspending, sign up for paperless billing and check statements online.
Many of the utility and home service providers you already know and use offer online bill payment systems for convenient ways to pay your monthly bills at home. Many of these systems even have automatic bill payment features, so you can set a day each month for automatic withdrawals.
Looking for a way to manage multiple household bills? Combine bill pay and online banking by authorizing your bank to send recurring payments for you to all of your service providers. Even if your provider doesn’t have their own bill pay system, banks can often send payments on your behalf electronically or by paper check.
News and social media
The internet is a great place for timely news, especially if you’re not a cable TV subscriber. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center late last year, 20% of adults admitted to getting their news from social media compared to only 16% that still get their news from traditional newspapers. Additionally, 49% of respondents utilized TV service and 33% had transitioned to news websites for information. As more and more people begin to turn to the internet, online sources are likely to surpass TV, radio and newspapers as a primary news source.
Aside from news updates, social media is also a great place for seniors to keep in touch with friends and family. Facebook has emerged as one of the most popular social media platforms for seniors to share information, coordinate and schedule plans with other users and stay connected with loved ones all over the country. With the right privacy settings, seniors can use social media to interact with their community and build friendships that may otherwise be difficult to build outside of the workforce.
Shopping and delivery
If you’ve heard of Cyber Monday or Amazon Prime Day, you know that the internet can be one of the best places to shop. If you can spend money at a business, the odds are that they have a website with the option to shop online. With search functions that allow you to comb through entire catalogs of inventory, online shopping can be a quick and easy way to buy last minute gifts for a friend, do your Christmas shopping or even buy groceries for the week. Quick shipping and delivery can make it so you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home when you need to make a purchase.
Smart home technology
The category of internet-connected devices known today as “smart home technology” can eliminate many of your everyday home maintenance tasks. These ordinary devices use your internet connection to help you live a more efficient lifestyle while in your home. Smart devices like refrigerators that organize grocery lists, door locks that alert you of disturbances and medication dispensers that ping your pharmacist for a refill can give seniors all the tools and independence they need to age in place comfortably. Take a look at some more smart home technology that makes your home management a little easier.
Internet definitions to know
With internet usage comes a brand new way of speaking and a laundry list of new words to add to your vocabulary. Check out a few essential terms that can help you learn to use your computer more quickly and become an internet expert.
Back button: This button is usually located in the top left corner of your web browser and allows you to return to the previous webpage.
Blog: An internet journal or magazine by one or more writers (bloggers) that displays the latest posts first, short for “weblog.”
Browser: A software program used to display internet content. Popular internet browsers include Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.
Dial-up: A traditional way of connecting to the internet using a phone line.
Downloading: To move data from a different computer to your computer. Data could be videos, images, files and documents.
Email: A way of exchanging messages using the internet, short for “electronic mail.”
Forward button: This button is usually located in the top left corner of your web browser and allows you to return to a previous webpage after clicking the back button.
Google: Commonly used as a verb meaning to look for something on the internet using the search engine, Google. (i.e. “I googled the location to find the address.”)
Home page: The main page of any webpage on the internet.
HTTPS: The language your browser uses to communicate with webpages. Often appears next to the lock icon in the web address bar and stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.” HTTPS is the more secure version of the traditional HTTP.
Hyperlink: Text, images or videos that take a user to another webpage when clicked.
Internet: An electronic super network that connects computers around the world.
IP address: Also known as an “Internet Protocol address,” every internet-connected computer or device is assigned an IP address for tracking purposes. (i.e. 188.8.131.52)
Internet Service Provider (ISP): Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Cox, Verizon, Xfinity and more, provide internet access to homes and businesses for a monthly fee. ISPs offer a variety of internet connection types from cable to DSL and fiber-optic.
Malware: Any software program designed to damage your computer in the form of viruses, trojans and spyware. Some forms of malware monitor your internet traffic, location and any sensitive information you share. Short for “Malicious software.”
Modem: A device that connects your home network to the internet.
Phishing: Fraudulently acquiring private information, like credit card and Social Security numbers, from an internet user.
Router: A device used in conjunction with your modem that allows you and other users in your home to wirelessly connect multiple devices to your home internet connection.
Search bar or box: A field where you can enter search queries, usually located at the top of a webpage.
Spam: An electronic messaging system designed to send out undesired messages in bulk.
Toolbar: The main menu of all the actions and edits you can make to your web browser, usually located at the top of the program.
Uploading: To move data from your computer to another computer. Data could be anything from images and videos to large files.
Virus: A threatening program transferred to your computer without your knowledge to “attack” and damage your device.
Web address: The specific location of a webpage or website, also known as a URL, or uniform resource locator.
Webpage: A single page on the internet, usually containing text, images or videos. If a website is an entire book, think of a webpage as a single page in that book.
Website: The location of a collection of related webpages, also commonly called a “site.” Think of a website like a book and the webpages as the book’s pages.
Wi-Fi: A way of connecting to the internet wirelessly, similar to the technology used in cell phones.
World Wide Web: The information system that allows you to access information on the internet.
Reading an internet web address or URL
A web address or URL is just as it sounds: the address of something located on the web. Understanding the structure of a web address can help you quickly learn more about a website and the way the website is set up. Check out an example of a typical web address and what makes each part of it important.
- https:// – Stands for “hypertext transfer protocol secure” and helps your browser find a website. Don’t worry about adding this when typing in a web address as most browsers will automatically add it for you.
- www. – Stands for “World Wide Web” and indicates that the website or page you’re looking for is located on the World Wide Web.
- cbsnews – The name of the website or page you’re searching for. In this example, we use “CBS News,” but this name can be anything from “Publix” to “AARP” depending on your search.
- .com – Tells you the type of website you’re viewing and where it is registered, also known as an “extension.” Can appear in any of the following ways:
- .com for commercial website
- .edu for educational institution website
- .org for organization website
- .gov for local, state or federal government sponsored website
If you want to locate a specific webpage on a website, there’s no need to search the website and then navigate to your desired page. If you know the exact web address of the page, simply type it into your web browser to be directed to a particular part of the website. For instance, if we knew we wanted to see all political articles on CBS News, we could type https://www.cbsnews.com/politics/ directly into our web browser.
Direct URLs are written to quickly sort through the different levels of a website and go right to what you’re looking for. Each level of the website is usually separated in the URL by a slash. The more slashes in the web address, the further you’re going into the website’s structure. Here’s an example of a web address or URL that’s designed to go to an exact page within the CBS News website:
- /news – A high-level category of content on the website called “News.”
- /protecting-seniors-against-fraud/ – The full or shortened version of the title of an article, usually separated by dashes.
This web address will still take you to the CBS News website, but more specifically, it will direct you to the “Protecting Seniors Against Fraud” article in the “News” category of the website. Typing in this direct URL is a quick and easy way to go directly to this article instead of looking for this content in the structure of the website.
Helpful tools for internet education
If you’re feeling like the last person to learn about the internet, you’re actually one of many older adults looking to become better acquainted with this technology. Many assisted living communities and senior-focused organizations provide classes and guided learning that can help you learn with a group of your peers. Look out for these senior resources online or in your area.
- Skillful Senior – This website is full of basic tutorials that will teach you everything from the proper computer posture to key positions on your keyboard.
- Webwise – Visit this online guide to brush up on your computer knowledge and view interactive tutorials.
- Eldy – Download this free software that will instantly make any computer more simple and easy to use for beginners.
- SeniorNet – Locate a SeniorNet learning center near you to learn more about computers and receive guided in-person tutorials. SeniorNet is based on Fort Myers, FL and serves adults over 55 across the U.S.
Check with non-profit organizations in your community to see if they provide senior internet education or a place where you can practice using the internet around someone that can answer questions as you go, such as your local library.
Also, check with internet service providers in your area to see whether you are eligible for discounted internet service. Many popular providers like AT&T, Cox and Xfinity offer basic internet service to seniors for only a fraction of the cost of regular service.
Learning tips for internet beginners
- Jot down a few of the terms above each week and read through them in your spare time. Writing down the meanings by hand can help you remember the words and quicken your internet education.
- Find ways to relate complicated technical concepts with concepts that you already understand. For example, in the “internet,” “website” and “webpage” definitions, it helps to think of the internet as a massive library, a website as one of the books in the library and a webpage as a page in that book.
- Make sure to actively use your internet-connected devices to practice what you’ve learned. Repetition will help you become acquainted with terms, technical commands and general use more quickly.
- Ask a friend or family member for help. A younger member of your family is more likely to be familiar with the words and practices you’re learning and will go at a pace that’s right for you.
Frequently asked questions about internet basics
Where can I get internet?
You can set up an internet connection in your home by contacting an internet service provider in your area. These providers offer internet service to businesses and households all over the country for a monthly fee and usually offer professional installation. Looking for internet service providers in your area? Call now to speak with an Allconnect® expert and shop internet deals today.
Can I buy internet, TV and home phone from the same place?
Yes, most internet service providers offer two or more home services that you can bundle to simplify your monthly bill. Some providers, like AT&T, Spectrum and Xfinity, reward customers for purchasing more than one service by offering discounted pricing, free equipment or installation and more. Call now to learn more about providers and bundle deals near you.
Which web browser and search engine is best?
There isn’t one browser or search engine that is universally considered to be “the best,” but some are more popular than others. Google is currently the most popular search engine in the world, with over hundreds of millions of search queries each day. The best browser for you depends on the type of sites you like to visit as well as the features and look you prefer. Google Chrome is currently leading the industry with more than 60% of the browser market share worldwide and is well-known for its simple design, speed and advanced security features.
How do I know if I have a virus?
Indicators of a computer virus include: pop up ads, mysterious messages or emails being sent from your social or email accounts, computer access lockouts, devices freezing and slow performance. Learn how you can protect your computer from viruses and more internet safety tips.