How old is too old?

Written by Jo, one of our Publications Officers

There’s a large proportion of elderly people living in Devon and many areas where internet access is, at best, patchy.  Our remit in Communications is to make sure we get our information out to all our residents in every possible way, and we should be considering those people who don’t have a computer or live in an area where there’s no internet access.

Doris days

Some years ago, we owned a high-tech vehicle, Doris – Devon Online Rural Information Service –  all kitted out with computers and satellite.  Staff went out across the county introducing older people and people without computers or with no internet access to the wonderful world of the web.

It was a fascinating and exciting exercise and we showed people how to book holidays, research their family history, find old friends, get more from their hobbies and shop online. At first we heard things like:  “My husband won’t let me near his computer”, “I get my grandson to do it all for me”, “I’ve got my daughter’s hand-me-down but I only use it for typing letters”, “What’s wrong with good old pen and paper?” and “I’m too old to change.”

Within a few years, there was no more use for the vehicle as we were hearing: “I skype my family in Australia once a week”, “I’m involved with a local petition to bring broadband to this village”, and “I do all my banking online.” But still we heard “I’m too old for change.”

We are now getting to the point where we are having seriously to consider how much non-digital communication we should be doing – in other words, by post, publication or leaflet, even by telephone or in person, and at what point we switch to doing the bulk of our interaction online.

More and more people who were 60 when we met them on Doris all those years ago are confidently using computers in their 70s, but there are still many elderly people who don’t have computers or, even if they want one, don’t have internet access, so it’s important that they can still find out everything they need to know about our services.

Ranting and raving
I was recently with a group of elderly family members who, over lunch, worked their way through the list:

Hay Tor
“keep going”

Sat navs:”Hopeless! Did you hear about that lorry driver who was trying to drive up the side of Hay Tor?”
Online banking: “I don’t want my password floating around in space.”
Facebook: “Nothing but trouble for mindless fools.”
Texting “I don’t know how to do it.”
Mobile phones: “I never turn mine on.”
E-readers: “I have to hold a book in my hands, feel the paper and turn the pages.”
Twitter: “What on earth is that?”
RSS feeds: “Would anyone like another glass of wine?”

None of these people, by the way, actually owns an e-reader or a sat nav and they’ve never seen a Facebook page – but do have 10 year-old computers so they can check their emails on a Sunday.  And they admitted to owning mobile phones, but these are kept switched off (and in the car in case of a breakdown) with no numbers keyed into the contacts.

Now read the small print:  of this group of eight blood relations, five of them were younger than me.

So how old is too old?  And (I’m going to try not to use the word “pander” here) should public money be spent on people who just do not want to engage with change?  In other words, people who are physically and mentally capable of picking up some basic skills and are financially able to buy the equipment?

Now, as they say on the Mail online comments section, you can red arrow me.  Just see if I care.

Calm down, dear
So having got that one off my chest, let’s be a little kinder and look at what we should do with those residents currently in their 70s who in their 80s won’t be saying, “I’m too old for change” but might say, “I’ve gone as far as I can go now with technology.”

Have you noticed that at a certain point in a person’s life they stick to their same hairstyle and start wearing comfortable clothes?  It could be the same with technology, and we need to be prepared to continue to offer alternatives to those people who have embraced technology and are accessing services via their computer now, but in ten years time might not have such good eyesight, their fingers may be arthritic, and they might not remember their password. Anyone got any thoughts on this?  Get in touch.

Managing content
Here, the Communications team is moving towards a new way of working.  We used to manage each piece of content individually.  For instance, leaflets would have been in the leaflet bubble, publications in the publications bubble etc.  Now the News Centre and our website are managed in a digital hub, which means there is just one place where we put our news and information and it’s then circulated to targeted audiences, so we’ll be pushing the content out instead of managing each bubble on its own.

We aim to get our story to people; we don’t expect them to come to our website and find it.  So we’ve started to create the content / write the story, and manage it just once by sending it to the News Centre, then we’ll keep re-using it –  by, for instance, weekly emails and quarterly summaries as well as exploiting the social web via Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, Youtube and Flickr.

From my point of view, I am exhilarated to be going on this journey and for it to be called work.  It means I’m part of a very interesting and challenging time of social change. I can shore up the knowledge I’m gaining for my personal use: my Facebook group, Twitter account, and blog, as well as ensuring my future so that I won’t be left behind and miss out.  Just as long as I can remember my password……..



2 thoughts on “How old is too old?

  1. Sarah Thompson

    I don’t think that it is too old to engage with change, it could be just you do different things with your time. I have found that I can fritter an hour away on my laptop at home without any trouble. That hour I could be doing something else that I have an interest in. The new technology has opened us up to instant news and information which could be to our benefit but perhaps we are going to add more people to the group who have difficulty in reading. Or are the ones who could not read and write but find texting TMB, BTW easy going to be replaced by the “I am doing something else with my time”. As to what we should do with the “who just do not want to engage with change” people if they want to know I am sure they will go and find out.

  2. Lucy Knight

    This post really strikes a chord with me. My parents, both mid-sixties, are perfect illustrations of why we should pay attention to people as people rather than as demographic segments.

    My father spends upwards of 3 hours a day on his PC – family tree research, YouTube, BBC IPlayer, emails and building a digital archive of media transferred from vinyl and ancient cine film. His mobile phone, on the other hand, is barely used and he carries it only in case of major emergencies.

    My mother owns a state of the art laptop that she barely turns on and can never figure out how to connect, but her mobile phone is an all-singing all-dancing touch screen type that she is constantly checking, texting and IM-ing her sisters, grandchildren and friends like a teenager. Resistant to technology? No – just different communication styles and interests.


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