Roberta McClintic, 90, takes time out from online chat to stroll with reporter Tara Siler. (Photograph by Jim Gensheimer)

or her 88th birthday, Roberta McClintic got wired. Now 90, nearly blind, and confined to a wheelchair -- but still living alone in San Jose, California -- Roberta stays in close touch with family and a network of new friends through America Online. Here she describes her experience as a member of one of the fastest-growing segments of the cyberpopulation: senior "netizens." 

"I don't go out much. There's really no place I want to go, and all my old friends are dead. My email friends keep me in touch with the outside world. 

"One day I was feeling kind of lonely, so I posted a message on one of the bulletin boards in SeniorNet. I wrote that I was in a wheelchair and unable to get around too well and would love to have some email pals. Seven people answered right away. 

"When I turned 90, I celebrated my birthday for 10 days and wore myself out, so I wasn't able to send any email. One sweet girl wrote to my son to find out if I was all right. 

"People really open up when you're corresponding with email. They tell you things they probably wouldn't otherwise because they know they're never going to see you. One little gal whose mother has Alzheimer's writes in desperation sometimes and just wants to be cheered and have someone who cares. I do care, and I have the feeling these people care about me, too, and that's pretty important when you're my age." 

Roberta's sons gave her a computer and an America Online account for her 88th birthday. Here, she corresponds with her email pals around the country. (Photograph by Jim Gensheimer)


Vision loss has reduced Roberta's daily online time from five hours a day to two or three, but a larger screen and a magnifying lens help her stay connected. (Photograph by Jim Gensheimer)


"I find senior chat rooms rather inane -- just a lot of smart-aleck talk and wisecracking," Roberta says. Instead, she uses her computer to keep in close touch with four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and several email pals. (Photograph by Jim Gensheimer)



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