By Judy Goddess
Every Saturday, from 2-4 p.m., and Fridays, from 4-5 p.m., a member of the
Sunset Branch Library’s Teen Computer Corps is available to answer patrons’
questions about e-mail, lap-top computers, tablets, cell phones, digital cameras,
electronic gadgets and the Internet. Most of those who come in for assistance are
It is not that older people do not attend computer classes, but highly-structured
coursework on using technology is not always effective with older people. A 2014
study published by the Pew Research Center concluded that even after attending
classes just 18 percent of seniors felt comfortable learning to use a new technology,
such as a smart phone or tablet, on their own, while 77 percent indicated they
would need someone to help walk them through the process.
Teen Computer Corps member Ryan Wong was at the volunteer table at the
Sunset Library when Helen O’Brien walked over carrying a white lap-top.
“My children gave me this a year ago, and I’m on it a lot,” she said, introducing
herself to Wong. “I use it to play bridge, maybe two or three hours a day. My kids
encourage me to use it to send e-mail, but I haven’t so far. That’s why I’m here.”
O’Brien opened the computer. “I want to send an e-mail to my sister. I
told her I was going to practice today, so I know she’ll respond,” she said.
Wong patiently showed O’Brien around the screen.
It’s best to keep the subject line to one or two words, he said, and the message
should go in the message section. Carefully peering at the screen,
O’Brien slowly made her way around the keyboard.
“I haven’t typed in years, so my typing skills need work,” she said.
After she finished a short note, it was time to send it. Wong pointed O’Brien to
the paper airplane, the send icon, and then directed her to the “sent” icon to check
whether or not the message really got sent. Satisfied that the letter was in her sister’s
in-box, O’Brien asked for help to delete months of unopened e-mails.
“Let’s get rid of all of them,” O’Brien said.
Wong pointed to a recent e-mail – an invitation to play bridge on Monday, that
O’Brien agreed needed a response. She was more confident this time, and the
note was quickly on its way. “He’s good,” O’Brien said of Wong.
“I’ve taken classes that are too technical, and I leave more confused. Ryan answers
my questions; he doesn’t tell me what I don’t need to know.”
Then, after checking to see if Wong would be around on other Saturdays,
O’Brien packed up her computer. “I’ll probably be back with more questions.
It’s hard to remember everything,” she said.
Wong, a senior at Lowell High School, likes volunteering for the Saturday afternoon
shift. “I volunteer because I’m knowledgeable about computers, and I know many
older people aren’t,” Wong said. “The technology is changing really rapidly and
they can’t keep up. Most problems people bring in are manageable: e-mail, opening
an app, surfing the web. They’re things I’m used to doing. I know what I’m doing
is useful, that’s why I do it.” He also points to his grandfather as a source of inspiration.
“My personal reason for volunteering is my grandfather; he’s in his mid-’80s.
There are lots of things he wants to do, but he doesn’t want to use a computer. My
mother and I have tried to teach him, but he resists learning. It would be good if he
could just e-mail or watch movies on YouTube. But he’s stubborn and doesn’t
want to learn. We’ve tried.”
Teen Computer Corps members volunteer at six branch libraries: the Sunset,
Richmond, Chinatown, Excelsior, West Portal and Ortega branches. Volunteer
hours are typically on Saturday afternoons, but some, such as teens at the
Richmond library, volunteer every second and fourth Wednesday afternoon. Because
school exams and holidays may limit the Teen Computer Corps hours, it is best to
call a particular branch before bringing in an electronic device.