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Ageing digitally – part 2/2

Business, the public sector and charities all need to find new approaches to digital inclusion to make sure the most vulnerable don’t miss out.

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

The main thrust of Ageing Better’s report, The digital age, is to understand those who say ‘Uninterested, not for me’ and those who would benefit most from being online but are afraid to try – or those who gave up, baffled, completely offline. 

Almost certainly the problem underlying all this is all the jargon! The internet has created a whole new language.  

People up to the age of 50 or so have in effect grown up with it all. And when you are young, learning a new language is not too difficult. For older people, a new language can be a major problem.  

The report recognises this as an issue, but doesn’t spell it out enough for me. My feeling is that this is the key age-related barrier. 

This quote sums up the problem for older people: 

“They talked about a mouse; well, I didn’t even know what a mouse was. I do think people don’t realise how older people don’t know the jargon, the speech; that’s what floors you.”  

Giving people the right support to use the internet

Go into a computer store for help, try a structured class, or ask your friends and family, and in minutes you are reduced to a helpless “Sorry, could you explain what XXX is?” Repeatedly and embarrassingly, until you or they give up.  

Even worse, older brains can find retention harder. Your son explains, you understood it, and next day it is gone. You ask again, and they very kindly do it for you. In a flash, you have become that stereotypical helpless old person. 

No wonder so many say “The internet isn’t for me.” Who is going to admit to being that dim and useless? 

My relief came from a brilliant class called “Blogging for Beginners”. A small, friendly group, with a young tutor patient to the end. Willingly repeating, gently easing until I had designed a web page.  

Mine! I had my site! And my pride was back. Even better, I now understood and could use social media. At 80+, a whole new world has been revealed.  

This demonstrates what the report’s authors have highlighted – the need for appropriate teaching. Learning in later years needs friendly, patient help, and lots of repetition.

They talked about a mouse; well, I didn’t even know what a mouse was. I do think people don’t realise how older people don’t know the jargon, the speech; that’s what floors you.
How should businesses and services cross the Digital Gap to engage an ageing population?

The report concentrated on the problem of older people’s unwillingness to engage with the internet. But we also need to consider those who want us to use the internet so that they can reach us.

Retailers obviously want us online. Government services would prefer us there too, as certainly too would banks, insurance providers and other essential services. The NHS and our social care system have major opportunities to use TeleHealth and improve patient monitoring… IF they can get us online.

We need to raise some questions with those who wish to reach us:

  • Have you really understood our problem?
  • Do you recognise the barriers you have created?
  • Is there any way you can be part of the solution?

To make a real difference, they will have to take on board the findings of this report, and understand the fear factor some of us experience about the digital world.

Not least, this includes the worry, uncertainty and misinformation about risk, fraud, and ID theft so frequently highlighted in the media.

If these organisations want us online, they will need to put in time and effort to win us over and reassure us about these scare stories.

We also need to ensure that everyone understands the need for:

  • Tolerance and understanding of our fears, including in some cases ‘technophobia’.
  • Talking about things in plain English, not in jargon.
  • Teaching through positive techniques.
  • Testing everything, including language and systems with us.

Above all, make it simple please.

Until this the norm, I suspect millions of us over-55s will never come online. We would rather continue to pick up the phone and speak to a person – or do without.

And the Digital Divide will continue… or even worsen.

Read Ageing digitally part one

Read more

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

Read more