Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Responsible Computer Use after Retirement - Safety and Netiquette

Once we retire, most of us discover that we have more free time than ever.  Many people use that extra time to go to the gym, garden, take long walks, enjoy movies in the afternoon, play bridge, socialize with friends and engage in other healthy, positive activities. However, over the past five years of my retirement, I have noticed that far too many of my friends spend countless hours on the computer in unhealthy, unproductive and even harmful ways.  Often, their computer activities actually alienate their friends and relatives.

There are probably more ways to misuse the computer than I can ever imagine.  However, below are a few issues which everyone should avoid.  If you find yourself slipping into one of these behaviors, the best thing to do is push yourself away from the computer and go take a walk or call a friend!  You need an intervention! 

Online Do's and Don'ts

1.  Don't send chain emails to everyone on your contact list - Periodically, I have had to ask my friends to take me off their list of people to whom they send chain emails.  Some of these emails relay "warnings" which are completely untrue or as unlikely to happen as being struck by lightning while sitting in your living room.  Other emails contain suspicious links I would never consider clicking on.  Who needs another virus on their computer?  Far too frequently, the emails are political in nature and, whether I support that candidate or not, I'm not interested in getting endless emails about politics. I am perfectly capable of choosing my own political campaigns to follow! I always delete these emails when I read the first line.  In a few cases, I have blocked the sender so they can no longer email me.  Don't be tempted to fall into the trap of thinking that, just because you are retired, you can now create a new career for yourself by constantly emailing everyone you know in an attempt to "rescue them," "convert them" or "help them."  Your help is not wanted.

2.  Don't spend hours playing computer games - One of my friends confessed to me that she sometimes plays "Bejeweled" and other computer games for so many hours that her arms and hands have become tingly and felt as if they had fallen asleep.  Sometimes, she sits at the desk so long, she has trouble standing up afterwards. Frequently, she stays up until 1:00 in the morning or later playing these games, and it is hard for her to fall asleep afterwards.  It may be fine to play games for a few minutes in order to fill up some empty time or relax yourself.  A few games can even be mentally stimulating and exercise your brain.  However, if you are playing for so long that your hands become numb or you cannot stand up, it is time to find a more active hobby.  Making real jewelry would be much better for you, and more rewarding, than spending hours on a game like Bejeweled!

3.  Don't share fake news stories on social media - Many people enjoy the social aspect of being able to stay in touch with old friends on Facebook, Instagram and similar sites.  It is fun to see the latest photos of your friends and their grandkids, and share pictures of your own.  However, the March, 2019 issue of the AARP Bulletin reported that people over the age of 65 are seven times more likely to share a fake news story on Facebook than a person between the ages of 18 and 29.  Think about that.  At our age, you would think we would have more sense than a 20 year-old!  Of course, since it can be challenging to know if a news story is true or not, it is important to check with a verification site like Snopes.com before spreading news stories, especially ones which could be inflammatory or come from questionable sites.  This extra caution is important whether you are spreading "news" on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or by email.  Use some discretion and be cautious about what you share online.

4.  Don't constantly complain online - Residents of our retirement community share information about estate sales, coyote sightings, new shops, and power outages on a site called Nextdoor. It is a very handy way to be kept up-to-date on events which could interest people in our neighborhood.  However, some people use the site to relentlessly complain about everything they believe is wrong.  This would not be such a problem if people only occasionally brought up a concern or question.  However, a few of our local retirees post complaints nearly every day, to the point that some of them have been banned from the site.  You do not want to become that "grouchy old man or woman" who never seems to find anything good about your life.  Go out and participate in an activity you enjoy, so you do not have time to spend your days complaining.

5.  Don't be rude to others online - Far too many people say things online which they would never say to someone in person.  Whether it is a celebrity or an ordinary person, simply because you can message them through the internet does not mean you have the right to say cruel and hurtful things to them.  Do not tell people they are stupid, ugly, or fat. Do not call them racist or insulting names, even if you disagree with their political or lifestyle beliefs.  Basic etiquette, sometimes referred to as netiquette, still applies to the online world.  People have committed suicide because of the cruelty of others on sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Do not succumb to the mob instinct of saying whatever you want online.  Practice the same thoughtfulness and consideration you would in person.  If you cannot say something kind, it is better to say nothing at all.  

6.  Don't become engaged in illegal activities online - Whether you are tempted by online gambling, pornography, or the sale of illegal products, don't use your extra time to indulge your baser instincts.  Who wants to go to jail in their 60s or 70s for online criminal activity?  It would be a terrible way to spend the last few years of your life.

7.  Don't forget to protect your privacy - Have you ever wondered about all those cute questionnaires on Facebook which ask you about the kind of pets you have, your pet's name, the town where you grew up, the year you were born, your Zodiac sign, your childhood nickname, etc.?  Often, the designers of these so-called surveys can use the information you provide to narrow in on your potential passwords. Don't participate.  Make sure you are using privacy settings on all the sites you use, and don't give away any information unnecessarily.  In addition, be extremely careful with people you meet on dating websites and similar places online. Even sites like Twitter are populated with people who post they are only there to find "someone special."  Since Twitter lacks even the minimal protections you get with a dating site, getting involved with a stranger this way can be extremely risky.  You do not even know if they are using their own name and photos!

8.  Do not harass other people - Some people have become discouraged using the internet because members of the opposite sex harass them, try to get dates with them, and will not leave them alone.  If you are lonely, get involved in activities in your community and meet people in person.  Avoid trolling and harassing people online.  Either they will be upset by the unwanted attention, or they could be trying to lure you in and take advantage of you.  Stick with people you know or take the time to find legitimate ways to meet new people.  Make friends through your clubs, classes, place of worship, and similar activities.

9.  Do sign up for computer classes - No matter how long you have used a computer, there are always new things to learn.  Everyone should occasionally take a computer class so they are up-to-date on the latest technology, programs and online risks.  Since modern smart phones are simply small computers we can carry in our purse or pocket, you should even consider taking a brief lesson when you get a new phone.  It could save you a lot of frustration.

10.  Do teach your grandchildren to stay safe on the computer.  You may want to get your grandchildren the book, "Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive in Their Digital World."  Of course, you will want to read it, too, and discuss the book with them.  It could help keep you both safe when you are online. 

The bottom line is that we all need to be responsible computer users, especially after retirement.  It is easy to get addicted to sitting in front of your computer, endlessly pushing buttons, playing games, forwarding chain emails, and not thinking about what you are saying and doing. However, while computers can be useful tools for staying in touch with family and friends, doing your shopping, reading, learning, and banking, it needs to be used responsibly.  Now, get off the computer and go take that walk!

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