Picks and Pans Main: Bytes
10/20/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
SENIOR CIRCUIT CYBERSPACE
When Mary Furlong started ThirdAge.com, a Web site for active older adults, her goal was less techno-wizardry than southern hospitality. "My vision initially was to create the kind of friendly gatherings my grandmother had on her front porch when I was growing up," says Furlong, 48, a University of San Francisco education professor and the founder of SeniorNet, a nonprofit schooling program that has helped senior citizens adapt to the computer age.
The three-month-old ThirdAge, a collection of services, information and bulletin boards, focuses on such topics as spirituality, travel and health and allows interested members (30,000 and counting; membership is free) to serve as forum leaders, "ThirdAgers have a lot of knowledge that they've accumulated," says Furlong. "Part of my vision is for them to become mentors."
Furlong, who lives in the Bay Area with husband Fred, a vice president of the Federal Reserve, and their two sons, has plenty of experience along those lines. In 1983 she and fellow academic Greg Kearfley bought some cheap computers and began giving word-processing lessons at senior centers. "Everyone thought we needed to get our kids up to speed in school," says Furlong. "They didn't think what it's like when you have six or seven decades behind you."
Today, SeniorNet operates 125 learning centers nationwide. Furlong stepped down as its president almost two years ago, seeing in the for-profit. ThirdAge a way to re-create that disappearing front-porch friendliness. "There's loneliness in our world," she says. On the Net, "you can create a great, safe gathering place...that allows people to share their knowledge."
Since their introduction in 1947, Legos, those little plastic building bricks from Denmark, have been a standby of childhood. Now LEGO Island, a new $40 CD-ROM from software publisher Mindscape, squarely captures the Lego charm. Aside from the fun of visiting a virtual world built entirely of Lego bricks, the game's biggest plus is adaptability. While younger players (the suggested age range is 6 to 12) can solve simple puzzles and delight in meeting the game's square-jawed villagers, older kids can race Jet Skis and work their way up to the final challenge: nabbing Brickster, the local baddie, before he destroys the island. Even grown-ups may itch for a spin.