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grandma williams

Grandma Williams challenges the Government's digital strategy

Older people need to get into the digital world. Business needs us there, so does government, and health care too is moving on line.

By Grandma Williams – a blogger and campaigner against thoughtless ageism, provides a look into what it's like to learn digital in later life, challenging the Government's digital strategy.

Can us Oldies catch up on today’s big push for the future to be digital?

Yes, of course!

However, many older people do not believe they can. The jargon is difficult, the technology seems frightening and in no time confidence evaporates. But most don’t like to admit that. Do you? To save the embarrassment you probably say you aren’t interested or you don’t need it, thanks very much.

Worse, the recently published government digital strategy plan, which aims to keep the UK at the forefront of the digital revolution, makes it clear that they think many of us Oldies will never make it. Although they think it ideal, they suggest there is probably no point in trying! 😡

This assumption that we can’t learn needs challenging. Why? Let me explain.

At 80, jargon deaf and techno-phobic, I started blogging on a vertical learning curve.  However, I started attending a weekly evening class in Glasgow called ‘Blogging for Beginners’. It was run by two entrepreneurial, young, award winning bloggers.  They didn’t expect an 80-year-old to turn up! But everyone made me very welcome.

They had the patience of saints and when they realised what I needed from them, we did brilliantly. It can be done. They taught me how to use Twitter and Facebook to promote the blog.  A wonderful new world opened up.

When trying to learn, there are two key problems for older people that younger people don’t have.

First that jargon. IT involves learning a completely new language. It has developed an amazing number of strange new terms and incomprehensible technical instructions.

Young people are like sponges, mopping up new language is automatic. Our grandchildren are native speakers. For us, our brains are pretty full and absorbing yet more is hard. We need patience and time.

Secondly, a major problem for older people is short term memory loss.  Until you experience it, you can’t fully understand the problem. 😥

Yes, you understood what you were being taught. You can even reexplain it. No problem there. But next day it has gone. No idea where. The key is lost. 🤔

“Sorry, but please tell us again” was a constant refrain in our class. And they did, gladly. 😀😀

With repetition and regular use though, you can fix new stuff.  But in the interim, you seem to be stupid, you feel stupid, though you know you aren’t.  If others see you as such, then it is very easy to lose confidence and give up.

This recognition of the difference created by the ageing process must be taken into account by anyone making proposals in this area.

The government are proposing to provide short free basic classes for those who need them. But who will design them?  Few young people can realise that teaching older people is different. Rather like the lovely call centre help line people who I drive mad with my repeated requests for a translation. They are amazed to find that someone can’t understand what is to them the normal world. Yet classes are usually run by these young experts.

We older people do need to get into the digital world.  Business needs us there, so does government, and health care too is moving on line. And the potential for digital technology to change the social lives of lonely older people is enormous.

I am delighted that Ageing Better have launched a project with people in later life, exploring their motivations and concerns, and what helps and hinders them in going, or not going, online. We desperately need to understand how to support more older people to use digital solutions and keep using them.

And we Oldies must also help.  We too need to campaign. We need to get these three messages across:

  • We can learn if you design courses with us, and not just for us!
  • If you want us to use digital systems they must be jargon free and technically simple!
  • Everything must be thoroughly tested, on the people who will have to use them! Us Oldies.

Joyce Williams blogs as on the fun and nonsense of being ancient and challenges the unthinking ageism in today’s world.