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Ageing digitally – part 1/2

4.8 million people over the age of 55 are not online, and many current approaches to digital inclusion are falling short.

In this two-part article, Grandma Williams, a blogger and campaigner against ageism, talks about her experiences of learning to use the internet in later life.

Ageing digitally - part 1/2

Last week, I spent a happy hour reading The Digital Age, the latest report from the Centre for Ageing Better. 

Happy because, reading it, I realised that someone had recognised the travails that occur when as an older person you attempt the travel into the world of the Internet (and a secret relief to discover that it isn’t only me who struggles!).

The report is the result of identifying a problem. Why, when the whole world is moving rapidly to ‘Digital by default’ are there 4.8 million of us at 55+ who don’t use the internet? 

The internet is great for shopping and maintaining social contact, a wonderful information source, providing access to services and banking without leaving home… what’s stopping us?
 

My 8-year-old great nephews seem to be born with it. They live in a foreign land for which I have no map, comprehending a different language which only they can speak.
Barriers to internet use in later life

The team have done a super job identifying and sorting the various reasons that so many people are not online in later life. 

It isn’t as if computers and the web are new. Thanks to the Open University, I had a Sinclair ZX in 1973 (you had to put it into the fridge to cool it down!). I then went on to the Amstrads and ended up with a tablet. 

Sounds impressive? Not really. I never did get the techno stuff. For me it was in effect a better typewriter. It still is. 

The arrival of the internet did get me on line, uneasily. Email is great and I love managing hotel, train bookings and car tax online. 

But I never got into online shopping and absolutely hate online banking …all that security and so many passwords. 

So, within confined limits a slow confidence grew. Until the next update, a crash, and the inevitable call to the helpline or visit to the computer.

How did I cope? I rang my family, called in a computer expert, asked my neighbour. Everything sorted, but I had no idea how or what had happened. 
 

What to do when the computer says no?

It isn’t just the crashes though. It is the constant battle with ”How do I…?” Then those ‘Error messages’ with weird numbers. Who do they think they are talking to?

These unfathomable problems drive me mad and put me off all but the minimum internet usage. But my 8-year-old great nephews understand it all. They can fix things in seconds. 

How did they learn? Was it an injection in childhood? They seem to be born with it. They live in a foreign land for which I have no map, comprehending a different language which only they can speak.

Many older people are like me, online though still seriously in need of help to participate fully. Until then, we remain in the ‘Digital Gap’.
 

Read Ageing digitally part two

Read more

The digital age: new approaches to supporting people in later life get online

Read more