Itea and Biscuits

This blog was contributed by Geraldine Bedell, Editor of Gransnet, the social networking site for grandparents.

It’s Monday morning and on the technology floor of Peter Jones department store in London, 10 people in their seventies and eighties are poring over tablets, examining smartphones and asking questions about digital cameras.

They’re here because it’s the opening day of Itea and Biscuits, Age UK’s week-long focus on digital inclusion, and the store has made a number of its staff available to talk to members of Kensington and Chelsea Age UK. Some of the older people who’ve turned up to find out about technology are complete novices; others have arcane questions about apps versus browsers or the way Chrome stores their passwords. This small group demonstrates, once again, that it’s unwise to make assumptions about anything, including internet use, on the basis of age.

A couple of mornings later, I found myself at the launch of a report on social exclusion from the International Longevity Centre (ILC), backed by Age UK. The report highlighted rising levels of deprivation among people aged 50 to 59 – which is worrying for those who care about the whole population being online, because we already know that social exclusion is very closely related to digital exclusion. Those who aren’t using the internet are poorer, live in worse housing and are more isolated. And it’s a vicious circle: digital exclusion further cuts people off from relationships, as well as from information and services.

Not being online is likely to have a negative impact on quality of life, probably even more so in the years to come. Some of the ‘it’s-not-for-me’ resistance that can be found among older people needs unpicking (when people say they aren’t interested, are they really worried about internet fraud, or the cost of equipment and broadband, or looking foolish, or perhaps a proud sense of having always managed perfectly well without all this stuff?)

Some of the resistance is undoubtedly practical and reasonable: those of us who work in offices tend to underestimate the levels of ongoing support we get. You can’t teach people to switch on a computer and send email then leave them alone and expect they’re going to be up with the latest thing a few weeks later.

But the other thing we have to remember is that there’s probably little value in telling people that the internet is good for them. In a sense, this is where the government’s Digital by Default strategy is flawed: people feel a bit bullied, they think it’s about saving money (which it is) and why should they put themselves out for that?

We would be better off thinking about why young people go on the internet. It isn’t primarily because the health service needs them to, or even for price comparisons, cheap deals and easy banking. It’s because the internet offers the things they love: music, relationships, the chance to make each other laugh. We would say this, of course, but at Gransnet we think we’re an attractor for older people online: we offer something that gives older people real pleasure. But with the internet currently designed primarily by 23 year-olds for 23 year-olds, there still isn’t enough really compelling content for older people, designed by the over-50s for the over-50s.

The internet is a young medium in all senses – fast, scattergun – and it’s harder for older people to find things that are a really rewarding use of their time. But that will change, and to be cut off from everything that is going to be on offer online in the next few years is to hobble yourself, to choose to exclude yourself at least in part from cultural and civic activities, local amenities, financial products and consumer goods and, most importantly of all, from an important strand of social relationships. Fortunately, the situation is not hopeless: as the members of Kensington and Chelsea Age UK showed, age in itself is no barrier to being interested and knowledgeable about the internet.

Find out more about Itea and Biscuits week

Read another blog by Geraldine Bedell on the Gransnet website

3 responses to “Itea and Biscuits

  1. I agree absolutely.However, those elderly who are in receipt of a decent income might have other problems,failing sight for instance. It does cost to have broadband and that has to be a factor
    However I agree that the Internet is here as a part of life. Just as was the motor car,the telephone,the microwave, air travel,. mobile phones, well, all successfully integrated into all lives well most lives,there are always exceptions

    It is,perhaps,how one adapts to changes that decides who embraces these new ideas.

  2. i am 70 years old, first went onto the internet aged 59. 4 months before my 60th birthday. at that time i had felt my brain was kaput. couldn’t learn anymore etc. how wrong i was. within the next year i had learned basic PC maintenance. how to make simple web sites and web pages. simple animations and graphics, ran a chat room. bought off ebay and do online shopping and banking safely.even taught other silver surfers to do simple maintenance jobs on their own PCs. must admit, due to a lot of online changes. i dont do a lot of those now. no one seems interested in chat rooms. nowhere much to use the animations. graphics i can use in the greeting cards i make though. plus i use social networking site daily as well as emails from friends around the world. and i get involved in politics too. still like to learn though the learning curve is much straighter now.. then again, i get taken out to historical places frequently. old castles etc, so my mind is still expanded that way too.have always loved history. read up on a place before we go so i have some knowledge on what im looking at. getting to a stage where even that is causing some problems medically so i know the time is coming when ill not be able to go out so much and possibly rely more on my PC then

  3. As a retired IT professional, I can see the reluctance of many seniors & I think understand it. This is particularly so when someone has done a job (fast diminishing these days) that has had no need of computer use, and as for using it for pleasure well…
    But of course the mind is like any other organ in our bodies, if it’s not used it gets out of trim.
    I use a computer every day & still provide support for friends and family (and still ride a bike for up to 50 miles a week). The important thing is to stretch yourself mentally & physically – it’s just the amount varies for each individual.
    There is also cost but providing they don’t shut all the libraries (sorry Discovery Centres) down you can still get free or nearly free access in lots of places – but then that needs knowledge to make the most of that too. So those of us who use technology regularly should help in whatever way we can to evangelise & encourage.

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