It all started with a woman. Several years ago, a tourist from Australia asked Robert Boyd if she could post his photo on her Facebook account. Boyd makes a point of looking good. When he leaves the house, he’s stylin’. “If you feel good, you look good; and if you look good, you feel good.” Facebook, Boyd realized, was an avenue he could use to broadcast his message about the importance of looking good.
Not many days later, another chance encounter. This time it was a visit by staff from the Community Technology Network(CTN) to his hotel in the Tenderloin. They came to introduce their new open lab at the Downtown Senior Center at 481 O’Farrell Street. The lab welcomed everyone, they explained, from novices to folks on the way to becoming computer nerds. The lab was for anyone who didn’t know how to use a computer or didn’t have access to the equipment.
Robert Boyd didn’t have computer skills, but he was motivated. “I didn’t think I was that smart. In your senior years it’s hard to learn.” But with help from the Community Technology Network, he proved a quick learner.
Boyd now posts daily photos of himself on Facebook (under the moniker, Robert Red), and Twitter, hosts a talk show on YouTube, Int. Red Fashion Experience, and makes guest appearances on other fashion programs. “I like to be able to get things out there,” he explained.
Recently, CTN hooked Boyd up with the Comcast program, Internet Essentials, where he was able to buy a laptop for $149 and receive internet services for about $10/month.
Though he now has less need to visit the Downtown Center, he promises to stop by, both because he wants to continue learning and for the energy. “I know some seniors stay home, never get out of their house. I don’t want to be one of them.”
Of course, not all visitors to CTN’s open lab go on to develop a social media presence. Some use the computers to watch videos, answer email, research medical information, hear music, and keep up with their friends on Facebook. But whatever their reason for visiting the Downtown Senior Center, they keep the place busy.
CTN’s open lab at the Downtown Senior Center is open weekdays from 9 – 11, and 1-3. A staff or volunteer is always available to answer questions and provide support. Heather DeSmidt, CTNs Digital Literacy Program Manager, says CTN also offers special events at the Center on occasion.
The Community Technology Network serves 25 senior centers throughout San Francisco in the SF Connected Program, funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS). Forty volunteers, many of whom are bilingual in Spanish, Chinese or Russian, help staff their programs. CTN also offers digital literacy programs in the East Bay. For more information, call 628-200-3118, or check out www.ctnbayarea.org.