Prospect Heights

Google connects seniors to Gmail at Brooklyn Public Library

‘I have a computer, but not one of these tablet gizmos’

March 28, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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“I’m here to learn how to use a tablet and Gmail,” said Dotty, a student at Google’s “Age EngAge” Gmail class for older adults at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) on Friday morning.

“I have a computer, but not one of these tablet gizmos,” she said, pointing to a blue Galaxy Nexus Android device. “This is terrific; I hope they keep doing this. Because it’s one-on-one. In other classes you get a lot of people but only one instructor who ten minutes into the class goes crazy. So far, Alex has not gone crazy.”

Alex Chu, a software engineer at Google, did not look like he’d be going crazy anytime soon.

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“We’re hoping we can help someone get onto the Internet and communicate with more people and be more social,” he said.

“Alex, you’ve been great,” Dotty said.

Roughly 25 older adults gathered into the Information Commons at the library on Friday morning for a crash course on Gmail, videoconferencing, YouTube and other Google products, conducted by 15 volunteers from Google’s Chelsea office in partnership with BPL.

“Sometimes technology can be scary,” said Becca Ginsberg Rutkoff, manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google. “Here, seniors can learn it’s a great way to keep in touch with their friends and families.” She added, “Many of them have never seen a tablet before.”

According to BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson, Google has donated 1,000 Galaxy Nexus tablets to the library system, which are being distributed first into library branches hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy.

Johnson said that library patrons would be able to check out the tablets for two weeks, renewable two times for a total of six weeks. “We’ve loaded them with eBooks and programs so people can see what it’s like living their lives with tablets.”

The two-hour class is “a perfect marriage of the physical space at the Information Commons with the hardware and the thing the Library does best – helping people enjoy their lives and learn new things,” Johnson said.

Google’s Community Affairs team of William Floyd, Amanda Del Baso and Leslie Pearl explained the program and played adorable videos showing how to use Google products to keep in touch with children and grandkids.

“We believe in the power of technology and how it can be transformative in the community,” said Floyd. “It’s a way to give back to our second home in New York City.”

Brooklyn’s Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna sent greetings from BP Eric Adams and said, “I was so excited to buy my mother an iPad. She ask me, ‘How do I turn it on?’ She was used to knobs and it was intimidating at first. Now she’s on FaceTime and videoconferencing with my sister.”  

She told the Googlers, “I hope it’s not just about you teaching the device, but you learning from these individuals who have enriched our country.”

Azucena, using a tablet for the first time, told the Brooklyn Eagle she was there to learn how to sign up for a Gmail account. “I use the computer a little. I like to search for new things,” she explained.

Lorraine, an activist with AARP, said her granddaughter had downloaded a video from YouTube onto her cell phone. “I want to do that,” she said. She also was looking to advance her Gmail skills. “I already have a taste of it, but I’m not too familiar with it. I’m trying to catch up. I see a big difference from Yahoo. My only problem is trying to sign in.”

“I had a Gmail account and I lost it,” said Beverly. “I want to learn how to retrieve my mail.”

Matt Kramer, a software engineer at Google, said, “I used to work with KidsPeace and I really love to volunteer. One premise at Google is ‘Don’t be evil.’ We really believe that.”

Google’s Del Baso said there was a great range of skills among the attendees. “We start with the basics, help people get a Gmail account, walk them through the process. About half have Gmail already, but with others you have to explain what a mouse is, what happens when you touch tablets.” She added that Google Translate was especially popular among immigrant seniors.

“This is our pilot event with Brooklyn Public Library,” she said.

Ann, an attendee from out of state, said she just happened to wander by when she saw the class. “I know how to use Gmail,” she said. “I want to learn more advanced things like Google Drive and Google Plus. We were just discussing the difference between Drop Box and GDrive.”

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