Daring To Straddle The Digital Divide

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John McNamee discovers the global technology boom can leave many people feeling strangers in a brave new world

HOW often have you seen or heard of retirees eagerly poring over their computer screens, Googling like maniacs, mapping out the route for their big post-retirement Grand Winnebago Tour or world ocean cruise?

How many times have you heard of Nanna and Pop setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts and even lying on lounge room floors keeping up with the grandkids as they grow up in a world of super technology whiz-bang computer games and breathtaking global knowledge?

It’s funny to think that even in the not-so-revolutionary world of the Press, we have in fact been producing newspapers using computer technology for almost 30 years now. Working on a computer has been second nature to me now for many decades.

And you only have to listen to conversation in a coffee shop to know that an ever-increasing number of seniors are proudly mastering the intricacies of the internet and its boundless horizons as we think nothing of booking our airline tickets over the ‘net, buy our goods in online shopping sites and even use search engines to help us solve crossword problems.

Generation Y is often grudgingly impressed that people over the age of 60 are as comfortable in front of a laptop keyboard as they are behind the wheel of the family sedan.

Massive advertising campaigns are aimed at the seniors populations, on-line car and home insurance companies target the retirees market and these days you see just as many older people doing the early morning exercise routine locked into their I-phone technology as the younger generations.

But surprisingly, not all of us over a certain age feel comfortable with this brave new world of digital technology.

Many older people unfortunately have fallen into what the experts have labelled as The Digital Divide.

It seems not all of us feel comfortable having to use the internet to keep up with the consumer demands of the current age and in fact, many of us are becoming ashamed of the fact that we are rapidly falling behind in the helter-skelter advance of modern technology.

 A wonderful lady friend of mine in her 80s named Madge came up to me the other day to say that the fob key that let her into the club’s toilets was not working and when I suggested she email the secretary to have it renewed she apologised and said: “I’m a bit stupid I suppose, I’m not very good on the emailing stuff”.

I felt for her…here’s this highly intelligent woman and proud grandmother who has found herself in a bewildering maelstrom of electronic communication which has left her feeling isolated. Why should she have to resort to email to get in contact with club officials..all it took just a few years ago was a phone call or a chat over tea and scones.

Now she’s been made to feel inferior and stupid when all through her life she’s been a highly successful businessperson and skilled communicator.

And it seems people like Madge are not alone.

According to the latest research by the National Seniors Australia (NSA) Productive Ageing Centre, theinternet should be enriching the lives of older Australians but many of them think that using it is all too hard.

There was increasing awareness that the internet could provide the convenience of email, health advice, online shopping, bill-paying, banking and keeping in touch with family, friends, news and events in their community, the latest report says.

But the research also showedmany seniors were deterred by concerns such as the cost of buying a computer and Internet or broadband connection, a lack of knowledge and skills, confusion about technology, worries about computer security and access to computers – particularly in regional areas.

And this lack of connection was causing considerable disorientation among seniors at a time when they were most in need of family and community relationships, the report says.

The study “Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide” was undertakenby Queensland University of Technology researcher Dr Sandra Haukka for National Seniors.

“Older people with low internet skills are unable to conduct business or access important services over the web,” said Peter Matwijiw, general manager of policy and research at National Seniors.

“They can be isolated from their community and family at a time in their lives when feeling connected is very important,” Mr Matwijiw said.

“In short, they are often on the wrong side of ‘the digital divide’.”

Bridging that divide was an important national challenge, given the rapidly ageing population, rising health care costs and later retirement ages, the report said.

It also called for urgent action to tailor current online technologies to help break down barriers andassist older Australians gain the skills and confidence they need to use the internet.

So  we must try to help those who don’t relish the techno-challenges that excite so many of us these days, challenges that we tend to take for granted.

Spare a thought for people like my octogenarian friend who didn’t want to risk trying to send an email because she didn’t know how.

A simple thing like that could lead to an elderly person spiralling into a depression because they feel as if the world has left them behind.

And nobody should be left to feel like that.

By the way, I sent a discreet email to the club secretary and Madge now has her new fob, God bless her!.

1 Comment

  1. Terry Austin

    Scary for many old codgers, John. But what about the explosion in the use of the new touch phone phenomenon? How much longer do you think we’ll be able to buy simple phones that just make phone calls?

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