Are you well connected?

Are you well connected?

Are you missing out by not been connected to the internet? A new report published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on the impact of the internet on older people in coming decades, shows that almost five million Britons aged over 64 do not have any internet skills, with many older people believing digital technology is “too difficult to use” and a luxury rather than a tool for improving life quality.

The LSE report flags several major challenges to engage older people in an increasingly digitised world, and also highlights the pros and cons of an ageing society using the internet.

We are now living in an age where the internet and computers play a major role in our lives and like it or not we have to accept that.  Many of us do not have access to this digital world and resent the intrusion of online communications into our lives.

Information and communication technology (ICT) has become part of the social fabric of Britain and has infiltrated every aspect of daily life. However, according to this research a significant number of over 64s, who have never used the internet, are raising concerns about participation in some important aspects of daily life.

Many older adults believe the internet to be a threat to their privacy. Compared to the general adult population, older adults are less likely to engage with social media. ICT has the potential to both help and harm social networking:  it can help alleviate feelings of loneliness by bridging geographical distance from family members and friends, but it could also lead to the breakdown of additional forms of social interaction.

Physical and cognitive difficulties are some of the major barriers faced by older people using the internet, including problems with arthritis, tremors, memory loss and deteriorating eyesight.

Dr Jacqueline Damant and Professor Martin Knapp from LSE’s research unit have also identified other barriers for older people, including:

  • A perception that information and communication technology (ICT) is expensive;

Poor access to adequate broadband and unreliable internet connections in areas populated by older people;

  • Concerns around loss of privacy, fraud and identity theft;
  • Lower skill levels due to older adults having left the workforce before, or just around, the time that ICT was becoming mainstream.

“Overall, the evidence suggests that older adults are deeply ambivalent towards ICT and reluctant to let it encroach too much into their daily lives,” says Dr Damant.

The benefits of internet access are many and those who are using the technology are able to do their shopping, banking and even get healthcare assistance without leaving their homes. The Government uses the systems to get us to complete forms and apply for basic requirements such as renewing our car tax and driving licence. Once you have done this you realise how easy it can be and beats queuing at the Post Office. But this is not as simple for many who do not understand how it works or even have the equipment available.

In 1989, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) created the World Wide Web, a comprehensive information exchange service over the internet. In 1993 CERN donated the service to the world and now there are over 3 billion internet users,

However, it is also estimated that 9.5 million adults in Britain do not have the basic skills needed to use it and this raises concerns about whether older people are able to participate in important aspects of daily life including maintaining support networks.

Indeed, the speed of development of ICT is one of the major challenges for the future. 25 years ago, everyone was getting excited by fax so trying to imagine what new technologies might be available 25 years from now is very hard to do.

On first January 1985 the first mobile phone call was made and now 93% of the population owns a mobile phone.

More accessible

Action from the public sector and charitable organisations is needed to ensure that ICT access is available to older people on the grounds of cost, or due to physical, sensory or cognitive restrictions such as hand flexible, the authors argue. There are also factors such as poor education, illiteracy and dyslexia that afflict those who probably left school at 13 or 14.

Lack of access to broadband or a slow service is a major problem especially for those who live in rural communities.

Shockingly only 25% of registered care home in the UK provide Wi-Fi facilities. Residents in care homes could benefit from having better access to all forms of communication.

The report authors say it is likely that older people will increasingly use the internet for shopping, banking, playing games and direct communication, but future ICT devices will need to be better designed to make them more accessible to older adults.

Where to get help

There are various charities and local centres where you can get help in using the internet and ICT. Ask in your local library or Age UK who provide direction. Also contact Digital Unite has been delivering digital skills training and development since 1996 and is the UK’s leading supplier of online digital learning resources and support.

Another very helpful site is where you may be able to get a cheap computer and help in getting connected. You can write to them at Choose Ltd, 78 York Street, London, W1H 1DP.

We are very keen to hear from our readers on this topic. Do you use the internet and if so what for? Or are you not interested at all? Please contact us and add to the discussion.