Case study—Ms. W.: Transcending spatial and social barriers

One of the more striking examples of technology being used to transcend both spatial and social barriers came from Ms. W., an 87-year-old woman living alone in the assisted living section of the CCRC. She had never been married, had no children, and had no other living family; she had a close friend in whom she liked to confide, but she was no longer able to visit this individual in person. Like other CCRC residents, her entire world was contained within the community—all meals, all activities, all social interactions occurred in that building (or at least what activities she did participate in, as other residents remarked that they typically did not see her participate in anything). The portrait of Ms. W. is one that is applicable to many CCRC residents across the country—of being alone and unable to interact with previously valued social contacts.

Despite the isolation Ms. W. may have felt, our interactions with her tended to be quite lively, and we quickly found out that she could be very outgoing and humorous. During one technology training class, the instructor asked the participants about topics they would like to search for using an Internet search engine; when asked what she would like to "look up," Ms. W. quickly responded "A man!" For most, Ms. W. tended to be a source of at least a few giggles.

One day during an office hours session, Ms. W. came in with a mission. She indicated to us that after learning about search engines in class, she wanted to know if she would be able to use something like Google to "look up" people. We informed her that you could use Google to try to search for information on individuals but that there were also some sites, such as, that may be able to provide contact information for someone if she was looking to get in touch with another person. Ms. W. then went on to say that over the course of the class, she was reminded of a dear friend she had grown up with but with whom she had had no contact since high school, and she was wondering if it would be possible to use Google or a site like to try and find this person and reestablish contact with him. We replied that this was possible but that it might be challenging. We sat down with her and began helping her search for her old friend.

We initially began as we did with all office hours sessions, with Ms. W. turning on the computer, logging in, and navigating to the Internet. Once there, we attempted to use Google to find information on her friend but to no avail. We then proceeded to navigate to to try and find information on him but ran into trouble—because it had been so long since Ms. W. had been in touch with this man, she was unsure as to where he lived. This posed a problem, because a search of this man's name provided numerous search results of men living across the whole country. At this point, Ms. W. indicated that she knew that the man had once lived somewhere in Arizona but that she believed he had moved away from there a long time ago. With nothing else to go on, we reconducted the search on and narrowed the results to those with addresses in Arizona. Unfortunately, there was no man by that name currently living in Arizona.

In looking at the list of search results, there were a few names that were close to that of the man Ms. W. was looking for, but not an exact match. One of the names caught Ms. W.'s eye, or more accurately, the title of one of the names: "Dr." Ms. W. indicated that she knew that the man she was looking for had a son and that he was a physician, and the age of the son would be roughly the same as the "Dr." they found in this search. We quickly conducted a Google search using the name of this physician and found out that this man had a medical practice in Arizona. Ms. W. found the physician's contact information from the main site for the practice and emailed him, asking whether he was who she thought he might be and whether his father was still alive (and whether she could have his contact information if he was). At this point, office hours were coming to a close, and so we had Ms. W. log off of the computer and wished her luck in getting in touch with her long-lost friend.

This case study has a happy ending, as we found out at the next class session that the physician responded to Ms. W. and indicated that he was, in fact, the person she thought he was, and he forwarded the phone number for his father. Ms. W. then proceeded to call her long-lost friend, and they talked for the first time in decades. She was incredibly happy about this interaction to the point of tears. In this instance, Ms. W. was able to successfully use technology to transcend the spatial and social barriers of living in a CCRC and reconnect with an old friend. Ms. W. would later remark in another class session:

I'm a hot, 87-year-old computer expert. I know how

to Google!

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >