News Analysis

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Derek Davis: Give priceless gift of internet this Christmas

Published 20/12/2012 | 17:00

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SO, it seems that 17pc of households have no computing capacity . . . no don't zone out. Think about that. For most young people, that's incredible – a life without Facebook, emails, Google, online gaming, shopping, networking.

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For my generation, and older, there is gratitude that tasks that used to be very tedious can now be a breeze. I can book an airline ticket or a hotel, pay bills, send letters and buy stuff on line but these are new skills to us.

Like most journos of a certain age I spent most of my career torturing ancient newsroom typewriters with wedges of carbon paper stuffed into them. Sub-editors in grey cardigans would mutter darkly about the quality of the typing, the spelling and the attitude of the reporters.

Then computers arrived and the subs could concentrate on their little sandwiches and tartan flasks of tea secure in the knowledge that spellcheck and easy correction had tidied up the copy from the 'barely-literate' reporters.

Of course, computers had penetrated every business. Their virtues far outweighed some of the less desirable aspects and very soon even Illiterasaurus Rex, like me, was getting lessons in using the new technology.

We did need help because all of this was new, but it soon became apparent that our children absorbed the mysteries of computing as easily as they learnt to read, write and binge drink. It seemed it came naturally to them, and in most households with computers (83pc), the IT expert is a child.

I still struggle from time to time but at least have my choice of offspring to rescue my efforts.

That figure of 17pc is a bit alarming. Who are these isolated and disadvantaged people? I suspect that, in many cases they are people who have had no one to show them how to use one of these machines and/or cannot afford the equipment.

You can teach an old dog new tricks (I'm living proof) and if you require further evidence I refer you to the annual Silver Surfer Awards sponsored by Google.

They didn't get much publicity this year, but in previous years I have seen people in their nineties getting awards for their skills on the computer, but more interesting are the stories that go with those lives.

There was the man in his nineties who spoke to his priest son in Fiji every second day on Skype. An old lady, crippled with arthritis and who was exploring and writing from her wheelchair, glowed with enthusiasm as she spoke of her online life.

There were so many uplifting and life-changing tales that I lobbied Pat Rabbitte, who was sympathetic to the idea, that any new nursing home application would include WiFi access for the residents.

You want to do something for an elderly relative this Christmas? Teach them how to use a computer.

How do you do that? Ask Google. Go online to Age Action or any of the myriad organisations who represent the interests of older people, and you will open a door to easy access for social welfare information, communication and stimulation.

One of the things I recall from those Silver Surfer Awards were the schoolchildren who volunteered to teach older people the mysteries of computing.

That's a transition-year project with benefits for both generations – the gift that keeps on giving.

Irish Independent

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