Centenarian surfs the web

By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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The year Frances Jackson was born, William Howard Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt to become the 27th President of the United States; The New York Times published its first movie review on D.W. Griffith’s “Pippa Passes,” and Joan of Arc was beatified in Rome. The year was 1909 and, if you’re counting, that makes Jackson more than 100 years old. Not to be slowed down by a couple of zeroes, Jackson decided recently that she wanted to learn how to use a computer. So, every Friday at 2:30 p.m., the resident of Eskaton Village heads down the hallway to the building’s activity center where she sits down with six or seven other residents and learns to maneuver her way around the Internet. Her reason for wanting to learn? To keep up. “My whole family’s in the computer business,” says Jackson. “Well, everybody but me. My son is retired from IBM. He was in it for 27 years.” With her oldest son living in Arkansas and her two grandsons in the bay area, Jackson thought it would be a good idea to at least learn how to use e-mail as a form of convenient communication. And Jackson’s proud to say that after her third lesson, she’s successfully sent her first electronic message. “The other day we sent two pictures and they sent two back,” she said. “That’s nice, you know. It makes you feel like you’re close to them.” Prior to taking lessons, Jackson had never used a computer. But she used a typewriter for many years as a part of her job as secretary for the Undersheriff of Butte County. But the biggest challenge of learning the computer isn’t necessarily the computer itself, Jackson says – it’s her own hardware. She suffers from macular degeneration – an eye disorder that damages the center of the retina. “It’s getting more difficult for me to see,” she admits, but, so far, she can see enough to navigate her way around cyberspace. Laura Wayman, an expert on dementia with Seniors First in Auburn, says Jackson’s willingness to learn about technology isn’t just fun, it’s healthy. “When you learn something new, like a new instrument, you are actually building brain cells – and you continue to build brain cells as you age,” she says. “The more brain cells that you build, then you have more brain cells to buffer and keep you from losing your function as quickly.” Regarding Jackson’s age, Wayman is amazed. “She probably has some really good genetics,” Wayman says. “She probably doesn’t have any kind of higher risk for cognitive incapacitation. Her lifelong experience provides so much strength in her brain functioning.” Even with Jackson’s lifelong experience, she never thought she’d be able to send pictures to her son without getting out of her chair. However, the centenarian isn’t completely sold on the new generation’s need make, receive and send information so quickly. “You’ve got all these conveniences today,” she says. “But there’s a lot to be said for when I was born, too. Now, we’re in such a darned rush to get everyplace. It seems like everybody’s rushing down the road – but to what?” Josh Fernandez can be reached at