Charles Warriner describes himself as a computer nerd.
He writes letters and compositions on his computer. He keeps track of his spending on his computer. And he enjoys his computer games, especially "Welltris."
But unlike the teen-age whiz kids one often thinks of as having love affairs with computers, Warriner has been retired for four years. The former Kansas University professor is just one of many older people in the community who are using the machines usually associated with younger generations.
Another is Bill Zotto, 59, who bought his first personal computer nine years ago out of simple curiosity.
"I'm not a young kid, and I wondered if I'd ever catch on to computers," Zotto said. "But I stuck with it, and now I enjoy it."
Zotto enjoyed his computer so much that a year later he went to work for a computer store in Topeka. He recently became manager of Computerland in Lawrence.
ZOTTO SAID people young and old are interested in computers, but he's noticed a big difference in how different generations inquire about them.
"I have always found that the older people will stand back and look at the computers and ask to be shown how they work. And they'll keep their arms folded," he said. "The kids might not know how a computer works, but they'll dig right in and figure it out."
Debbie Nall, activities director at the Brandon Woods retirement community, said she'd noticed a similar apprehension among the retirees with whom she works. Many of the Brandon Woods residents used to teach in public schools, but students were teaching them when they recently saw a computer demonstration at Quail Run School.
"It meant nothing to them. It was just like Greek," said Nall. "Some of them have never been back into a school since they retired, and all this new paraphernalia is just mind-boggling."
HOWEVER, NALL said, "Some would like to take mini-courses on how the computer works. I hear all the things that residents would like to do, and that's one of them."
Warriner said he would like to see more older people lose their apprehension about computers.
"I think there are people who see computers as requiring too much learning, and I think that's wrong," he said.
Members of the KU Retirees Club, of which Warriner is president, may agree with him. The club purchased a computer and laser printer about three years ago, and about 15 members of the club use the system on a regular basis, Warriner said.
Among the members' uses of the computer are keeping track of the club's budget, creating spreadsheets for personal use, figuring personal taxes, tracing genealogy with specialized software and playing the computer in a game of bridge.
OLDER PEOPLE have found computers practical in many other ways.
Kent McEnaney, account representative at Computerland, said he had seen a number of older people purchase computers for the purpose of hooking up with computer networks.
Such networks are ideal for shut-ins or people who have difficulty getting around, said McEnaney. The networks allow people to send and receive electronic mail. And one network designed especially for senior citizens has allowed for grief counseling, with the electronic equivalent of Dear Abby helping others cope with the loss of a loved one.
One possible drawback is that people must connect with such networks through their telephones, and older people with limited budgets might find telephone charges of $6-12 an hour too steep.
TERRI RICHMOND, director of Douglas County Senior Services' Adult Day Program, is seeing older people use computers in yet another way.
The Adult Day Program cares for frail, elderly or disabled adults during the day, allowing their families or guardians a temporary time off from caring for them.
"A lot of our clients have had strokes or head injuries, and the aging process decreases the memory," said Richmond.
However, Richmond has been using a computer on loan to the program to help her clients develop their cognitive skills. Some of the clients play a computerized game of concentration. Others use programs that quiz them on states and capitals. But the most popular program is one that tests one's knowledge of trivia.
"It's pretty helpful in keeping them alert and allowing them to use the capacities they have left," said Richmond.
RICHMOND SAID she, too, had seen older people express a fear of computers.
"But when they get used to it and find out how easy it is, they're pretty interested in using them," she said.
And when today's younger computer users become tomorrow's retirees, there might be lots of senior citizens who are computer nerds.