The internet and the ‘older’ generation

This morning (9.00 am ish) I just happened to pick up 5 minutes of a programme on BBC Radio 4, which made my ears prick up.

Evidently 8.7 million people in the UK (many of whom are in the over 65 age bracket) have never used a computer. This was being discussed by two people (whose names I did not catch), who held opposing views about this.

One felt that it is a social injustice that nearly 20% of the population do not have access to the internet. She told us that 1.6 million people over the age of 65 do not see anyone in a one month period and believes that the internet could prevent the isolation felt by so many older people. Her view is that the internet helps people to feel more connected and more in control of their lives.  She felt very strongly that social divides should not be increased by technology (i.e. lack of access to technology).

The opposing point of view was put by a man who suggested that the internet increases the problems faced by older people. He likened it to a ‘foot-in-the-door’ saleman, where your privacy is invaded and you are subject to identity theft. For him there is not enough time to simply ‘stand and stare’ and that this is a need increasingly felt by older people, who should not be hassled to be connected and should be left alone to enjoy a quieter less connected period in their lives.

There are good points in both arguments. Ultimately I think it depends on whether using the internet is a choice or not – but the problem is that making these choices is never straightforward. My mother has never owned or used  a computer. She is one of the 8.7 million. Do I think the internet would make her life easier? No – not now. She is in her mid eighties and now after a hectic life definitely likes to spend a lot of time ‘standing and staring’ – metaphorically speaking – and I can see how easy it would be for her now to become the prey of the ‘foot-in-the-door’ salesman. But between the ages of 65 and 80, I think the internet could have saved her a lot of time, in terms of finding information, shopping etc. As for being connected – I don’t think she has ever needed the internet for that.

It will be interesting to see whether the 8.7 million figure drops as the next generation (my generation) moves into our 70s, 80s and beyond, or whether we will become those who like to ‘stand and stare’ – if we do not already!


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(William Henry Davies)


7 thoughts on “The internet and the ‘older’ generation

  1. Jaap June 6, 2011 / 10:59 am

    one (40 years old) collegue of me today did stop blogging and twittering. He said, he wanted to be more social and less virtual. More time for friends and his family.
    So, which generation has internet problems?
    Like the poem.

  2. jennymackness June 6, 2011 / 8:31 pm

    Hi Jaap – thanks for your visit 🙂 Yes – I don’t think it is only the older generation. I don’t think your colleague is alone. What will be interesting is whether his decision to be ‘less virtual’ is a permanent one, or whether he will just have a break and then return to blogging and twittering. I think there are plenty of people who ‘take a break’ – or decide to ‘go slow’.


  3. suifaijohnmak June 10, 2011 / 3:30 am

    Hi Jenny,
    I think older people are “winding” down in their journey of their lives, and so would be choosy in their connections. I think their wisdom are more aligned with loving their close family members (the precious moments), by having and hoping to have more social connections, to keep their hearts warm for the rest of their lives. I also think I am going along a similar pathway, though I am still not yet qualified as yet. Love your poem, as that is how I would like to ponder in my life, as a legacy. Here is my response

  4. jennymackness June 11, 2011 / 8:35 pm

    Hi John – thanks for your comment. Yes – necessarily older people eventually end up ‘winding down’ – I can see this in my mother – but what I find fascinating is how many people remain really active well into their 90s – even working in some capacity. I do think though that the internet has completely passed by some of the current older generation. I don’t think we will see this again to the same extent with future generations who won’t know a time without access to the internet. I sometimes wonder how I managed to study for my degree without access to the internet. or a computer 🙂


  5. Sui Fai John Mak June 12, 2011 / 2:29 am

    Hi Jenny,
    “I sometimes wonder how I managed to study for my degree without access to the internet. or a computer” that surely applied to us and our next generation. I am using computer and internet every day at work and outside work. Remember our research work, I don’t think we could do it without emails, wikis, & survey monkeys etc.

    I noted that some people worked into their 70s, and a priest is still serving mass beyond 90s, that is amazing. I don’t think there has been much research into old age computer/internet usage, as most older people would steer away or not responding to such surveys. But an understanding of how older people learn about computer and internet is important, as that is also helping us to support their learning.

    I have once taught a course on internet and computer usage for the seniors in the late 90s. Many of those people have difficulties in understanding English, and so my instruction has to be in their own language. That was a challenge for me too. Also, since they haven’t used computers before, the meaning of “double click” can only be demonstrated. Besides the bandwidth at that time was pretty narrow (56k), and the speed was incredibly slow, it took a long time (minutes) just to download a photo, or a video.

    So, their use of computer and internet was very limited.

    May be these sort of scenarios are not common nowadays in developed countries, but I think we can’t just assume that is the case, as computer and internet is still not yet available in some poor countries.


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