Older People Embracing Technology Bridges Gap between Generations
August 8, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
As new research shows online charity donations from the elderly have increased, we talk to an enthusiastic ‘silver surfer’.
It is becoming evident that an increasing number of older people are embracing technology and using the internet, whether as a tool to communicate with friends and family in other countries, to do some online shopping, to donate to good causes or to pursue hobbies and interests. The Fresh Outlook examines how a basic knowledge of IT can be a liberating factor for much of our older generation.
New research shows that the over 60s are becoming more technology-savvy, with a huge increase in online charity donations. Website JustGiving proves that ‘silver surfers’ are behind the huge rise in charity donations made online over the past five years, sparking an increase of 128% to religious organisations. Older people have also increased online giving to arts and culture groups, which has tripled over the same period. Retired Bishop the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe told the Press Association: “People want the ability to respond immediately in a world which is increasingly cashless.”
A poll of over 2,000 people found the over 60s to be the most generous age group. The average yearly web-based donations stand at £135 per person, but the over 65s give a generous £182 to good causes. Overall, the data suggests that OAPS are likely to donate £50 more than younger generations online per year. Managing director of JustGiving Anne-Marie Hulby said to the Press Association: “It shows the nation is wising up to the power of technology to make giving easier and more tax efficient.” This points to a wider trend of older people embracing technology as a way to connect with society.
Chester may soon possess a mobile internet cafe specifically made for the elderly, after receiving a generous £1,649 donation from NHS West Cheshire’s chairman’s discretionary fund. Rural Community Services West Cheshire runs Older People at Leisure (OPAL) clubs every week, which aim to improve the quality of life for elderly citizens. The OPAL clubs rely on volunteers to support members and make them feel comfortable and safe at meetings, as well as fulfilling practical issues such as driving them to and from venues and preparing lunches. Through mixing knowledge of IT with patience and support, young volunteers at OPAL collaborate with the old.
It seems that technology may be the key to bridging the gap between generations. The internet offers a place for younger and older people to unite without ageism. It is also an exciting and liberating way for people to connect with the world when physical difficulties may limit them. The internet enables people to keep in touch with family and friends on the other side of the world, pursue interests and hobbies, and even independently do the shopping online. The internet offers a space for users to be equal, age to be an irrelevancy, and physical disabilities to be unrestricting.
The older generation are often considered to find the idea of technology to be daunting. Yet the internet is an important tool in keeping older people connected with the world, preventing them from feeling marginalised or left-out from modern day society and culture.
The Fresh Outlook spoke to Mr Richard Pimlott, a retired broadcaster from Penarth, about his use of technology and the internet within the older community. Mr Pimlott uses the internet everyday. “If I don’t know the answer to a question, or I’m interested in something or somebody, in it goes and up it pops. You can do anything on it.”
Mr Pimlott is very familiar with social networking sites, search engines and popular online applications. “I use Google an awful lot. I use Facebook, because I’ve got friends all over the world and I can communicate with that … and I use Skype as well.” The internet also proves to be an efficient tool for keeping in contact with peers. “I’ve got friends all over the UK, friends in France, friends in Cyprus … I’ve made a couple of friends in Norway through our family connections, so we talk on a regular basis – twice or three times a week via the internet – …it’s wonderful! Not only that, but if I don’t understand the language the [computer] will translate it for me!”
When asked whether he found learning how to use the internet particularly difficult, Mr Pimlott replied: “Not really, no. The initial spat I had with the computers was when I was helping a friend of mine out who was running a taxi firm … Another friend of mine was building computers at the time when it was in its infancy so we bought one, which was slow, and I had to learn how to use it. It was all MS-DOS then; disc operating systems. That was a bit of a difficult thing to learn from scratch.”
Unlike the compulsory IT lessons that children now attend, Mr Pimlott had to approach computers the hard way. “I had a book and spent six weeks playing around with it but I got the hang of it and then of course they introduced Windows. That was amazing … click-click-click and there it was. So, I picked it up from there. Google really only reared its head in 2002 or around then, so it’s quite recent. It’s not been that long but of course it altered the world completely, absolutely completely.”
The Fresh Outlook asked Mr Pimlott whether learning how to use the internet and computers could be beneficial to older people in general, to which he replied: “Yes, definitely. Quite simply; if they want to know anything, they can type it in. Even to the point that there are programmes about now where you can talk to it and it’ll tell you.”
Yet it seems that older people are hesitant to learn how to use the internet. “The biggest problem I find is that they’re frightened of it,” he says. I tried to teach my wife how to use the machine, and I suppose it is a bit like me with languages. I have a mental block of learning someone else’s language and my wife has got a mental block of learning how to use the computer.”
Mr Pimlott realises that technology has completely revolutionised the way younger generations learn and function. “In my day you had to go to the library and look at the encyclopaedia Britannica – which of course was totally out of date. They used to update that every year with one year book. So you had to find out what you wanted and then find the year book (if it hadn’t been moved) and open that and check it hadn’t been altered … it was terribly laborious.”
He continues: “All the research we did for what were then our O-Levels, we had to do in the local library. It was a question of: day off, go to the local library and pull through all these books and all these exam papers and all nonsense … and all you do now is say thank you very much, what’s the answer to that? It can work against you as well, but having said that it is a gateway to all science really, or anything put that way.”
It certainly seems that the internet and technology is a way to keep our older generations connected with the younger. 18-year-old Alex Morgan works at Tailor Made Networks, a Cardiff-based computer repairs service. Mr Morgan educates non-computer users how to become use computers effectively, and teaches the basic functions of the internet. He works with many older people, offering a flexible, unintimidating service which can be particularly appealing to those who find the idea of computers rather daunting. Mr Morgan told The Fresh Outlook: “I find that a lot of older people are really looking forward to embracing social networking. You’d be surprised by how many want to use the internet as a way to get in touch with people, especially their children, who may live further a field.”
The internet and technology are certainly crucial factors to consider when looking to improve the well-being of the older generation. It is a liberating tool that, once the basics are learnt, can serve as an implement to improve standards of living. Evidence shows that older people are becoming more and more in touch with technology, and that this new found knowledge has been very beneficial to many.
By Zosia Gamgee
[Image courtesy of Knight Foundation]