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Seniors Zooming, texting their way into 2021

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A senior checks out a recipe on her smartphone on Tuesday in Alpena.

ALPENA — “You just learn by doing.”

That sums up how some Alpena seniors have adjusted this year to using new technology, from smartphones to online interactive platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, seniors living alone have found ways to remain in touch with friends, children, and grandchildren using a variety of online and digital technology that they had not previously used.

While Northeast Michigan faces a digital divide — with federal data showing about a third of the region’s residents lack internet connection at speeds fast enough for modern life — age doesn’t always contribute to that gap.

Area officials, especially in health care, report some seniors, unfamiliar with technology, struggling to adapt as the pandemic forced more of daily life online. But many others have logged on without major issues.

“I’ve been involved in some Zoom meetings and some Google Meet book studies, and I’ve had one doctor’s appointment out of town that was held by teleconference,” said Carol Kindt, 71, of Alpena. “You just learn by doing, or other people help you and tell you, and it’s kind of easy to catch on.”

Kindt, who lives alone, said she uses FaceTime on her smartphone to interact with family.

She got her smartphone about a year ago and has mastered it by now.

Prior to that, she had no cell phone at all, after trying one out for a short period some 20 years ago. She got rid of it because, at that time, the reception was poor up here in northern Michigan.

“Through the years, I thought, well, I didn’t need one,” she explained. “But, lately, observing people and being in a group of people, and noticing that I’m the only one without a cell phone, I decided to get one a year ago. And I love it! You know, texting and all that, it’s not hard to use.”

At this point, “It’s easy, and I don’t know how I lived without it,” she said.

As a former teacher, Kindt has had a computer and knowledge of working with email and computers for many years now. She regularly upgrades her laptop and gets a new one when it becomes outdated.

She added that she keeps socially active, talking on the phone and emailing friends and family daily.

Another retired teacher, Marty Cantleberry, spends a lot of time interacting with her children and grandchildren via Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime. The family is spread out over Michigan and throughout the country, including Colorado, Florida, and Texas.

“I have a lot of places to visit once this is all over,” Cantleberry said.

She and her late husband, Don, used to travel all over the U.S. They visited all 50 states before he died about a year-and-a-half ago.

“I would love to see the kids, and I miss traveling,” said Cantleberry, who will be 70 next month. “We traveled all over the place, and I was planning a road trip about when we got shut down. I was going to leave — I’m from Wisconsin — and I was going to go visit some people in Wisconsin at the end of March. And, needless to say, I haven’t been there since” prior to the pandemic.

The former music teacher has lived in Alpena for 16 years.

Prior to this year, she said, she had not used Zoom or Google Meet, but she feels comfortable using them now. She had used FaceTime and Skype before.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “I don’t set them up, so I just have to push my little button there and get in” to a Zoom or Google group meeting. “A group of friends at church, actually, we’ve been Zooming. We do a book club … It’s been a good thing.”

She attends St. Paul Lutheran Church in Alpena, where she is the choir director.

Cantleberry said texting has become a go-to communication method, although she still prefers a phone call.

“I text constantly,” she said. “Especially with the kids. They’ll text 10 times a day.”

She has caught on easily and will text when necessary.

“Just call me,” she said. “It takes longer to type it than it does to talk it out.”

Now that she lives alone, she also has a smartwatch.

“My kids got me an Apple Watch,” she said. “So, if I fall down, it’ll say, ‘Are you OK?’ And it’ll call for help” if she tells it to call.

“I’ve not lived alone before, and I’m pushing elderly,” she said with a laugh.

She said she is in good health, but it’s nice to have the peace of mind that, if something happened, help is just a call or text away.

Despite the ability to interact via the internet, she does miss in-person meetings with friends and family.

“I would dearly love to be able to see my family more, and my friends,” she said. “It’s not the same on Zoom, but it’s good. It’s better than just talking on the phone.”

Cantleberry gets out and walks dogs daily, waving hello to neighbors from a distance.

She’s gotten a lot of fresh air and exercise, and she passes time playing piano, cooking, singing and knitting.

But she is looking forward to getting together the old-fashioned way when circumstances allow in 2021.

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