Older generations embrace technology at Road Scholar retreat

Posted July 19, 2011, at 7:20 p.m.
A recent Elderhostel/Roads Scholars retreat Down East blended yesterday's generation with new technology. Participants Kathy Potier, 75, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (rear) and Cindy Piennett, 53, of Washington state, check their iPads during the final session of a week long stay at the park. &quotI can't live without it," Piennett said. &quotEspecially when I travel. I use it to get motel rooms, check ferry schedules, find the history of an area." Potier added &quotI confess I do get kind of obsessed."
A recent Elderhostel/Roads Scholars retreat Down East blended yesterday's generation with new technology. Participants Kathy Potier, 75, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (rear) and Cindy Piennett, 53, of Washington state, check their iPads during the final session of a week long stay at the park. "I can't live without it," Piennett said. "Especially when I travel. I use it to get motel rooms, check ferry schedules, find the history of an area." Potier added "I confess I do get kind of obsessed."

CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick — When the international educational and leisure program Elderhostel changed its name several years ago to Road Scholar, it was in response to baby boomers, who don’t always want to be referred to as elders.

As a group of Road Scholars proved recently during a weekend visit to the Downeast area, folks in their 50s to 80s can — and do — keep up with younger generations.

“I couldn’t believe the technology everyone was using,” Linda Godfrey said. Godfrey is the founder of the Atlantic Leadership Center, which offers leadership development programs and hosts the travelers three times each summer.

“We began offering Elderhostel programs and other seminars and retreats on Campobello Island 15 years ago,” Godfrey said. Often, these retreats intentionally put a gentle barrier between Downeast and the rest of the world.

“But this year, folks were keeping in touch with the outside world with the latest generation cellphones, iPads and laptops,” Godfrey said. “They may have traveled to an island but they brought their technology with them.”

That’s not surprising, however, since many of those attending the Road Scholar retreat found the information for the program online. “Yes, it is an effective marketing tool,” Godfrey said.

On the last day of the retreat — after whale watching, beach combing and listening to speakers reflect the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — the visitors gathered in Prince Cottage at the park for breakfast and to check their email.

“I confess,” said Kathy Potier, 75, of Lancaster, Penn. “I do get kind of obsessed.” Potier had her iPad on her knees and was checking her messages.

“I checked the route here from Pennyslvania, checked my email, Facebook and the news,” she said. But as accomplished as she feels with the tiny computer, Potier admits to being a bit lost when it comes to using her new generation cellphone.

“I’m struggling,” she said. “I’m probably only using 15 percent of its capacity.”

Around the breakfast room, cellphones were out, iPads lit up and laptops were pulled from their cases. Nearly all of the 24 Road Scholar participants appeared to be hooked up and logged on. One senior was showing another senior how to use a new search engine. Another was searching for directions to a Maine landmark.

Cindy Piennett, 53, of Washington state was the youngest participant at the workshop.

“I can’t live without [my laptop] especially when I travel,” she said. “I book motel rooms, check ferry schedules, look up the history of an area.”

Piennett said the whole Road Scholar experience was one of learning, exploration and discovery.

“That doesn’t stop with retirement,” she said. “And it includes technology.”

Some of the seniors admit that they must adapt for age-induced shortcomings, however, by having larger monitors or a separate mouse or keyboard.

Evercare, a nationwide health plan provider, conducts annual surveys of 100 lucid centenarians. Three years ago, it found that seven used email, two had Googled long-lost acquaintances and three had patronized online dating sites. In last year’s survey, 11 of the 100 centenarians said they frequented YouTube and two were on Facebook.

If the two dozen retirees and senior citizens visiting Downeast this week are any reflection, those numbers will skyrocket in the future. Even as the group was saying goodbye, hugging each other and making sure they had street addresses, they also were exchanging email addresses.

Anyone interested in Road Scholar programs can go to www.roadscholar.org. Local residents can also sign up for day programs in the Downeast area by calling the Atlantic Leadership Center at 853-2574.

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