The Government Initiative To Get More Elderly Folk To Use The Internet Is Extremely Commendable, But Why The Need To Continually Categorise People Based On Age Alone

For the many of us who are on the internet on a daily basis, it can be strange to think about spending just a few hours without all of the benefits it can provide. We are completely used to being able to keep up with global news, talk to friends instantly, locate an incredible amount of obscure information in no time at all via search functions and find numerous other things online that it seems unbelievable that quite a lot of people in the UK who have never even been near a computer.

A new report claims that there are around six million inhabitants aged over 55 in the UK who have never used a computer and presumably have never really considered getting involved in anything online. And now there is a campaign to get the older generation signed up and surfing like the rest of us.

It is certainly true that as people get older they are more likely to become lonely, often due to 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 dramatically, but some may also have lived longer than most of their contemporaries, which lessens their social circle. So of course, having the ability to go online and make use of instant messaging or Skype to chat to family or friends who live a long way away would have a huge impact on many people.

The campaign says that youngsters who are computer literate should help with this campaign by sharing their skills with older relations. This is a excellent idea and a noble intention, but I chuckle at the idea that ‘the young’ are so much more competent with computers than other people.

At this point, I should explain that I am in my late forties, and I am a total computer devotee. I use my computer for writing, photo manipulation, audio manipulation, video work and lots more. I am always online and if I am parted from my laptop for too long, I have to use my mobile phone to keep up with what is happening all over the world. I use Facebook, Twitter and emails for making contact with friends all over the world, I shop and bank online, I use the world wide web as my encyclopaedia, dictionary, atlas, telephone book and news bulletin. (I do begin to wonder if there is a computer screen complaint similar to finding you have ‘square eyes’ from watching too much television. I certainly notice my eyesight changing and should probably consider Laser eye surgery as an alternative to having to keep spending money on new glasses.)

Anyway, the inference by this report is that younger people will know a lot more about computers than me! Well, if that’s the case, when I ask an eighteen year old which ISP she is signed up to, I wouldn’t expect the response to be that she has no idea what I mean!

I do think that everyone should be able to use the vast resources of the internet. The idea should be applauded. However, it does seem that not everyone wants to be computer literate, and a minority even seem to enjoy being ignorant. Picture this scene – there are ten of us in a pub for a drink a few days ago, mostly aged between 48 and 52. Only four of us understand that there are a number of web browsers, and of the four of us, one has only abandoned Internet Explorer since her son installed another one. One male is convinced that life would be a lot better if we could just return to using paper and pen for everything (he is also the sort of individual who thinks that DVDs are a bit modern and keeps making do with his decrepit reading glasses rather than invest in Laser eye treatment), and another male uses a computer for work and consequently won’t use one indoors. A married couple declare that they could never get involved with Facebook because it scares them too much (yes, really!), and one female mostly uses eBay to spend her pocket money, but doesn’t even have her own email address and shares her son’s address instead. And these are individuals who are too young to be targeted by this campaign!

On the other hand, consider my neighbour, aged 79, who asked me if I’d seen the vehicle that had been parked across the road for a number of days, and then said that since she’d been worried, she had done a Google search to find out if the company was genuine and what the company did, and when she had done so, realised that they were obviously completing some work in the empty bungalow across the street.

A relative of mine, who is also aged 79, schedules her life via a computer. She has serious issues with her eyesight (for which there isn’t any surgery or Laser eye treatment available), so has to alter the screen settings to make everything bigger, but she very confidently stays in contact with many contacts across the globe, pens articles for publication and also does work for the charity (for the elderly!) which she has been helping with for years.

Of course I welcome the attempt to get a lot more people to use and understand the internet, but really, can we stop dividing everyone up by their age? I definitely will not be conforming to any age related assumptions about my attitudes any day soon!

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