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google-age-engage-520x390_snapseedThe Internet is a great tool for making connections and talking more often with family and friends who live outside of Regency Retirement Village in Morristown, but the learning curve to use it on high tech gadgets can be intimidating to many seniors.

Tech company Google launched a program to help seniors learn more about using the Internet called “Age Engage”. In workshops throughout the country, volunteers provide one-on-one help with the worldwide search engine’s latest products, including Gmail and other “apps” on Google’s Chromebook and Nexus tablets. The volunteers have also taught individuals over 50 how to pay bills online and more, with instruction tailored to each participant’s interests and experience.

Their aim is to increase Internet literacy in people who are over 50 by showing how the Internet can make things easier. There’s an Irish website called GetYourFolksOnline.ie that offers free bite-size courses that seniors can take, learning skills step-by-step. There’s everything from how to use a mouse, right up to trickier things like making Skype calls.

Skype, in particular, opens all sorts of possibilities for interaction with people, especially youngsters like great-grandchildren who may not have yet developed the communication skills to type an email or send a text message. Skype enables users to make free calls or low cost phone calls worldwide over the internet.

To use Skype, you need an Internet connection, a headset with a microphone and a webcam. When a family member downloads Skype on their computer or mobile device, they can receive a video call from you while you see a moving picture of them while talking. Similar programs are called FaceTime (Apple) or Google Voice & Video Chat. Users are required to create accounts and log in with their username and password to use a unique connection.

Google Talk lets you send and receive instant messages with friends and family. It uses a Google account. Once signed in and after inviting people to chat, you are able to determine whether they are available to talk by looking at a color next to their name. Red means someone is online but busy. Orange means they are online but idle. Green means they are online and ready to chat. Gray means they are offline.

Other technology that lends itself to connecting with loved ones is Photo Sharing on “the Cloud”. Imagine all of those photos from your last visit with the grandkids uploaded to a web page that you are invited to look at whenever you want. Again, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing, but enjoying the memory of good times spent together and reaching out over a live video image to the sound of familiar voices are the next best thing to actually being there.

To learn more about Google products, visit www.google.com/intl/en/+/learnmore/