Could the Internet change how you communicate?

Categories: Nation/World

March 28, 2014, edition
By Zack Dunham
Catholic News Service

Staying in touch with family members scattered throughout the country always has posed a problem to retired seniors.

Long-distance phone charges and time constraints conspire to keep families apart. However, by providing many lowcost and free communication services, the Internet allows an ever-growing number of seniors to stay in contact with family members.


With every Internet advancement, the world becomes a smaller place. While staying in touch with family members was once time-consuming and expensive, the Internet makes it as simple as typing on a keyboard. CNS Photo

Below is some basic information on getting started with the Internet.

To begin

The first step in using the Internet is obtaining a computer with either a modem (a means of accessing the Internet over phone lines), a cable modem (significantly faster than a regular modem, it accesses the Internet through cable television lines) or the capability for wireless Internet connection.

To wirelessly connect to the Internet, you must have: A router (a device that connects to the Internet through a phone line or cable modem and broadcasts to your computer). A network interface card, its antenna and compatible software installed in the computer. Wireless connections require that the computer be located at a “hot spot” or access point; often, such “hot spots” can be found at hotels, restaurants or libraries.

Once you have a computer capable of connecting to the Internet, you will need an Internet Service Provider. After purchasing an account with an ISP, it will provide a software package allowing you to access the Internet. Different ISPs are available in different areas and vary in price and function. Their services constantly are being upgraded and improved.

If you want to check on ISPs while setting up your own system, try using an online computer at your local library.

The website provides a list of ISPs and gives their prices and features.

Another site,, allows you to find an ISP based on your country, state or area code. The ISP will provide instructions on downloading its programs into your computer.

Even you can do email

The simplest, most common means of communicating over the Internet is email. Email is a way to send messages back and forth over the Internet in the form of postage-free letters that arrive almost instantly.

Usually, your ISP will provide an email service. However, popular email services including Hotmail ( and Yahoo ( allow you to create a free account and choose your email address.

Most email systems allow you to store commonly used addresses. You can enter the addresses of family members and friends in your system’s address book so that you need not memorize them or constantly type them in to send a message.

Email also allows you to attach small files stored by your computer, like photos, to your messages.

Try instant messaging

Another form of Internet communication is instant messaging. IM programs allow you to send text messages back and forth with another online person. It is like a cross between email and the telephone; it features text messages (like email) but provides a realtime connection with another person (like the telephone). Unlike a telephone, instant messaging is free.

Common IM programs that you can download free of charge and use include AOL Instant Messenger  (, MSN Messenger ( and Yahoo Messenger (

Remember, you must have the same kind of messenger as the person with whom you wish to communicate.

Once you have an IM-service account, you can keep a “buddy list” of people you regularly communicate with. This list lets you know when your contacts are online (unlike email, instant messaging only allows you to communicate with people who are online when you are).

IM programs also allow you to create a chat room to communicate with a group.

Further, these programs let you share files with your contacts. Unlike email, instant messengers do not limit the size of file you can share. However, larger files take longer to transfer.

Blogs allow much more

In an effort to stay in touch over long distances, many families have created their own blogs. Short for “web log,” a blog is a web page that serves as a combination bulletin board and journal.

Blogs allow you to post thoughts, pictures and announcements, and can be linked to other blogs to create a network of similar websites.

For example, the members of your family could have their own personal web journals, each containing links to the others. This would allow you quickly and easily to browse them for information, keeping up to date on family events. You could post your own thoughts and announcements on your personal blog, allowing your family to stay in touch with you.

A good place to get your own free blog is This site provides a simple method of creating a blog and includes a help function to answer questions you have. A more advanced blog can be created at However, it also charges a monthly or yearly fee for its services, with prices ranging from $4.95 per month/$49.95 per year to $14.95 per month/$149.95 per year.