This guest blog was contributed by Liz Baker, who is currently a student of the M.A. in Writing course at Warwick University.
When, over quarter of a century ago, I watched my toddler niece teach my mother how to use a microwave, it set me thinking about the pace of change in our world, a pace so fast that toddlers quickly became teachers.
For children, everything is new so nothing is daunting, but for many adults born before the 1980s, adapting to the internet was – and still is – a big and scary change. In a few decades we have moved from sending first hesitant emails to using the internet to run our lives, do our shopping, find our loves and even manage our finances.
And yet these skills are not intuitive. I still have friends who don’t “do” email, who don’t even own a computer and who manage their lives the traditional way. But each year this must get harder for them, as more and more people and companies assume that everyone has access to cheap, reliable broadband and the skills to use it.
When my telephone company notified me that they would now charge an extra £1.50 a month for paper bills, I started to wonder what it actually costs people to ignore the internet and what would happen to them if that choice disappeared. I wondered how the many couples I know, who divide the duties within their relationship into separate roles, would cope if left on their own. Would the other partner even know how to find the online electricity bill, let alone be able to access the internet bank account to pay it?
I remembered acting as an Executor of my father’s Will and how I followed a vast paper trail to the savings my parents had accumulated during their lifetimes. Would I have been able to do that if I all I had was a computer and a request for a password?
So my story, ‘Virtually Dead’, began to develop. It is a fictional story about someone who is unable to adapt at all to the digital world. I needed to make the plot extreme for dramatic effect and then I had to make the scenario sound possible, even plausible. I found it frighteningly easy to do this, using examples from my own life and tales from other people.
It showed me that the speed of change is so fast that a ‘traditional’ way of life may disappear quicker than the people who want to cling to it. So we need to find ways of identifying and including them. Age UK is doing a fantastic job of increasing awareness of these issues, developing solutions, and providing advice and help to the vulnerable and those who are able to spot vulnerable people.
The world is changing and that is something we can’t stop, but hopefully the mainstream media will pick up the debate and explore some of the challenges that it presents.
Liz Baker’s play, Virtually Dead, will air on The Wireless from Age UK on Wednesday 4 September at 18:00. The Wireless is available on DAB in Yorkshire and London and online at www.ageuk.org.uk/thewireless