Silver Web surfers face unique challenges

October 21, 2009

Matthew Bath

-Matthew Bath is technology editor at Which? The opinions expressed are his own.-

Today’s children take PCs for granted. Comfortable with cursors and wonderful with Windows, children use PCs for everything from watching video clips on YouTube to logging onto school networks to virtually hand in homework.

Laptops are as essential to teaching kids as a blackboard and chalk, with interactive learning games, social networking, Wikipedia, and the astonishingly good value CBBC website forming a digital tapestry of learning that we barely give a second thought.

But a world of electronic education wasn’t always the case, as those who were the classes of the 1940s and 1950s will testify. Here is a generation of adults, now in their 50s and 60s, who simply didn’t have access to computers in the classroom. Lessons were text book rather than hypertext based, and networking was something that people did over a pint.

Yet while school may be out for those in their 50s and upwards, a growing army of silver surfers are getting to grips with the internet, sharing photos on Flickr, using Twitter to keep in touch, and saving time with internet banking and grocery shopping.

I have a fantastic example in the shape of my mother-in-law. Approaching 80, she logs on each day and uses the internet for everything from watching BBC iPlayer replays to challenging my five-year-old to a game Mah-Jong. It is truly cross-generational and fairly inspirational stuff, but not everyone is as timelessly technical as her.

So while in a recent survey Which? found a generation of older people are embracing computers and the internet, many were rightly frustrated with a digital world that simply doesn’t speak in an accessible language. Which? found that as many as seven in ten over 50s had experienced frustration with their PC in the past year – with crashes, concern over viruses, and questions over the trustworthiness of a website all topping the list of gripes.

And it is the buzzwords and jargon that have many reaching for the shutdown button. Most computer users, sensibly, want to use a PC to make their life easier. But when faced with navigating an evolving, at times bizarre, language, it’s no surprise that some feel a little distanced from our connected communities and unwilling to jump online.

To a rational mind, much of our jargon-fuelled internet terminology is simply odd. In the digital world, cookies aren’t chocolate chip, frames don’t house pictures, a script kiddie isn’t a schoolchild learning a play, and spiders don’t eat flies. All of which means that if you’re new to computers and the internet, you can well be forgiven for feeling a little, well, out of your domain (name).

There’s a financial impact from not getting connected, too. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report found that non-connected homes are missing out on around 500 pounds a year on savings, thanks to cheaper prices online and time-saving activities.

The great news is many silver surfers are confident with PCs and the internet, and for those that aren’t Which? has created Computing Made Easy For The Over 50s – giving practical, step-by-step advice on getting the most from your PC, and all without the jargon. Which? has had thousands of people pre-order the title, and embracing the chance to get over some easy-to-conquer concerns and really embrace everything PCs have to offer.

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