I have been thinking recently that I would find it hard to imagine a world where the internet didn’t exist. At the very least, how would I book my holidays and theatre tickets and take advantage of those special deals on a well-known book site? So it’s really interesting to be evaluating Age UK London’s digital inclusion project, ‘MiCommunity’, because many of the older people in London who have signed up for the project have never even turned on a computer.
It’s fascinating to see them discovering the internet and in particular the joys of internet shopping. Apart from other aspects of technology, there is an overwhelming interest in shopping online for a range of useful items from popular stores. People are clearly enjoying comparing items and prices without having to go to the shops. I only wish that my mother, who last year broke her hip aged 93 years, had been able to shop online – it would have helped her remain independent and may have prevented her going into a care home which she fiercely resisted as long as she could.
But, there is something even more interesting going on in this project apart from supporting the independence of older people through digital technology and reducing isolation. Younger people aged 16-18 years are teaching older people on a one-to-one basis to use computers, and in the process of showing them how to access internet sites, they are entering each other’s worlds.
We are supposed to believe that these two different generations have little in common and even fear each other, yet this project shows how through the medium of the internet, these sorts of barriers and misunderstandings can be broken down. The two generations are discovering shared interests, which surprise them, as well as what is of particular interest and importance to each generation. In other words, they are discovering the delights and challenges of each other’s daily lives. This can only be good for developing greater understanding between the generations and knocking down negative stereotypes.
So I say, thank goodness for internet shopping! Now I must go and book those concert tickets…