For a lot of us who are on the internet regularly, it can be impossible to comprehend spending only a day or two without all of the things it can contribute. We are so used to being able to keep up with breaking news stories, get in touch with friends instantly, locate an incredible amount of useful information in no time at all via searches and carry out numerous other things online that it seems unbelievable that quite a lot of people about who have never even used a computer.
A new report states that there are about six million people aged over 55 in the UK who do not have access to a computer and so have never really thought about joining the ranks of internet addicts. So now there is a campaign to get the older generation online and surfing with the rest of us.
It is certainly true that as people become older they are more likely to become isolated, often caused by mobility, vision or hearing problems. Clearly if they can afford joint replacements, Laser eye surgery and a hearing aid, then their quality of life might change substantially, but many could also have outlived many of their contemporaries, which reduces their social circle. So of course, being able to go online and use instant messaging or Skype to interact with family or friends who live a long way away would have a huge impact on many people.
The campaign believes that youngsters who are computer literate should assist with this campaign by teaching their skills to older relations. This is a great idea and well intended, but I chuckle at the concept that ‘the young’ are so much better with computers than other people.
At this point, I should explain that I am in my late forties, and I am a complete computer enthusiast. I use my computer for writing, photo manipulation, audio manipulation, video work and lots more. I am constantly online and if I am away from my laptop for too many hours, I have to make use of my mobile phone to catch up with what is happening all over the world. I use Facebook, Twitter and emails for social contact with friends all over the planet, I shop and bank via the internet, I use the world wide web as my encyclopaedia, dictionary, atlas, telephone directory and news bulletin. (I do begin to wonder if there is a computer screen complaint like getting ‘square eyes’ from viewing too much television. I certainly notice my eyesight getting worse and should probably consider Laser eye surgery rather than having to keep paying out for new glasses.)
So basically, the inference in this report is that younger people must know a lot more about computers than I do! Well, if that’s the case, when I ask a teenager which ISP she is signed up to, I wouldn’t expect her answer to be that she has no idea what I’m asking her!
I do think that everyone should be able to use the huge resources of the internet. The concept should be promoted. However, it does appear that not everyone wants to be computer competent, and a few even seem to enjoy remaining ignorant. Picture this scene – there are ten of us in a pub for a birthday celebration a few days ago, almost all aged between 48 and 52. Only four of us understand that there are different web browsers, and of the four of us, one has only changed from Internet Explorer since her son installed another one. One male is convinced that life would be a lot better if we could just go back to using paper and pen for everything (he is also the type of individual who thinks that DVDs are a bit new-fangled and keeps making do with his decrepit reading glasses rather than invest in Laser eye treatment), and another male is forced to use a computer at work and therefore refuses to use one at home. A married couple declare that they will never get involved with Facebook because it panics them too much (seriously!), and one female mostly uses eBay to spend her husband’s money, but doesn’t even have her own email address and uses her son’s address instead. And these are individuals who are too young to get involved in this campaign!
The opposite of this is my neighbour, aged 79, who asked me if I’d spotted the work van that had been sitting over the road for a few days, and then told me that because she’d been concerned, she had looked it up online to check if the company was legitmate and what the company did, and having done so, worked out that they were clearly doing some work in the empty house across the street.
A relative of mine, who is also aged 79, runs her life via a computer. She has serious difficulties with her sight (for which there is no surgery or Laser eye treatment available), so has to amend the screen settings to make everything bigger, but she very cheerfully keeps in contact with numerous acquaintances across the globe, authors articles for various publications and continues to do work for the charity (for housing for the elderly!) which she has been supporting for years.
I absolutely welcome the attempt to get a lot more people to embrace and understand the internet, but really, can we stop making assumptions about people based on age? I definitely have no intention of conforming to any age related assumptions about my attitudes any day soon!