“Born Too Soon”
One Woman’s Journey into the Digital Age
“I feel that I am supposed to be part of the computer age,” says 76-year-old Shirley Fickling. When she retired from her job as a payroll clerk at the Port Authority in 1985, computers were not commonly used as they are today. “There were no computers in payroll,” says Shirley. Yet more than twenty years later, she has become a full participant in the digital world, not only using computers to improve her own life, but also volunteering to help other older adults with technology as well.
Shirley was motivated to learn computer skills when she went back to work part-time helping connect low-income people with government benefits. Her position was ultimately phased out, “replaced by a computer,” she says, and she took two computer courses with limited results before enrolling in an OATS basic computer training at the Castle Hill Senior Center. “They said they were going on the Internet,” she explains. “I was curious about setting up an email address. I never had an email address before.”
Shirley completed the twenty-session, ten-week course and has become an enthusiastic computer user, helping others learn how to use the Internet and leading the OATS Medicare peer counseling clinics at Castle Hill. “It was simply great, and I truthfully mean it. I had an enjoyable time with Anthony and I truly enjoyed the class. And I learned so much: how to shop, email – how you can pay bills, although I still hesitate to pay bills on the computer.”
Shirley sees her experience with the OATS program as unlocking a potential she had been carrying inside herself for many years: “Before I took the OATS class, I was always interested in the computer. I felt that I was born to soon,” she says. “I felt that I could have been an expert had I been born later. I knew I could do it.”
Today, Shirley uses the computers at Castle Hill on a weekly basis, both as an assistant instructor in the basic computer class and as a counselor at the Medicare clinics. She is a fan of the peer approach: “Seniors teaching seniors, you know. It’s a great model. The instructor teaches us, but seniors can provide a real service by providing individual attention to current students.” What’s next for Shirley? “I am waiting to get a computer of my own,” she says. “I intend to work it dearly.”