With more than 40 percent of Japanese now using the Internet, an increasing number of elderly people have found a new way of enjoying life by opening their own home pages or establishing Net clubs for seniors.
While exchanging e-mail via mobile phones is the fashion among the young, setting up home pages as a means of self-expression appears to suit the elderly as the Internet gives them a link to the outside world from the comfort of their homes.
Every Saturday, Shinji Morita, head of Friday Salon, a senior citizens network in Kyoto, uses a third-generation phone that can send moving images to chat with participants in an information technology workshop sponsored by a seniors’ Net club in Sendai.
The workshop places pictures sent by Morita on its home page and uses them as teaching materials.
Morita, 74, underwent an operation on his leg last year but is in high spirits. Every week, he visits Kyoto shrines and temples, including Higashi-Honganji Temple and Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, and sends pictures live to Sendai.
A 70-year-old woman participating in the workshop was encouraged by Morita’s activities.
“First I was not sure whether I could continue to attend the workshop. I have difficulty moving my fingers,” she said. “But now, I am eager to attend the workshop.”
“It appears difficult to obtain information or express oneself via the Internet,” said Noriko Kondo, head of a Tokyo group studying high technology for the elderly. “But for elderly people who tend to stay home and meet other people less often, the Internet is the most suitable tool.”
To make the Internet more user friendly, especially for seniors, it is necessary to develop easy-to-operate software and contrive foolproof personal computers as well as phones capable of sending moving images.
The telecommunications ministry gave a demonstration titled “Easy home page creation system for elderly and disabled people” in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, from fall 1999 to the following March.
The system, which was developed by the ministry, allows creation of a personal home page without technical operations. Even elderly people who are not familiar with a keyboard can create a home page with a voice input device.
The ministry developed the system in the belief that transmitting information via the Internet will not only give elderly people a hobby and increase their participation in society but also become a key tool for shopping and medical treatment.
One of the elderly people who took part in the experimental demonstration later created a home page to relate, in serial form, his experiences traveling overseas.
As of the end of last year, the number of Internet users stood at 56 million, accounting for more than 40 percent of the total population of Japan.
The ministry says the number of Internet users increased sharply from around 1999.
According to an annual survey by the ministry, Internet use in households headed by people in their 20s or 30s exceeded 80 percent last year.
The survey also found that one out of four households headed by people aged 60 to 64 uses the Internet.
The accessibility division of the ministry’s Information and Communications Policy Bureau said there were 71 Net clubs for seniors engaged in nonprofit activities as of February last year.
“If those operated by individuals and those operated on a regional basis are included, there are too many to enumerate,” a ministry official said.
More than 1.3 million people take part in GeoCities, a free home page set-up service provided by Internet search engine operator Yahoo. There are many elderly people among them.
The elderly create a diverse range of home pages, ranging from photographs of landscapes to haiku to missives on their grandchildren and memories.
Some people even predict the Internet will lead to a new seniors’ culture.
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