Some more thoughts on the debate about older people and “digital skills”, further to my post of a week or so ago.
As well as saddling the objective of getting older people online with a prohibitive price tag of £875m, the debate is also being increasingly framed around “teaching” people “digital skills”. I believe, from my own experience of working with older people, that this is the wrong way to approach it.
Now, if I am an older person, retired from the labour market, why would I see a need for someone to “teach” me “digital skills”? Surely that is for someone who needs to do such things as part of their job?
My preference is that, rather than employing “teachers” to “teach” digital skills, we need to find ways of incentivising people who love digital technologies to pass on that love to people who have yet to come to the party. This, I believe, would both be a more effective approach, and would be likely to be delivered much more cheaply than £875m. Digital technologies can be fun, life enhancing, and socially beneficial. People who are not on board are missing out on all of these benefits, and we need to show them that.
One of the things I don’t get when working with older people is the tendency I have witnessed of many, professionals and others, to treat them like children. I think this contributes to their exclusion from digital technologies, with some thinking it is their duty to protect them from new and scary things. New technologies can both open up older people’s horizons to new experiences and connections, and be used to remind younger people that older people were once young themselves. We can use video, audio and photography to enable older people to tell their life stories which can have positive benefits for themselves and can act as a signal to others that these are people who have been active, with varied roles.
And I also don’t get the obsession with the 1930s and before which some people working with older citizens have when setting the context for events. Someone who is 75 now was 15 in 1954. As most people’s musical and social preferences are set in their teenage years, they are far more likely to be Rock ‘n’ Roll fans than to have an appreciation for Vera Lynn or George Formby.
Older people are becoming increasingly digital confident. But both the ability to continue to participate in the digital world, and to be introduced to it for the first time are threatened by “gatekeepers” who want to protect them from it, and by the system’s inability to cater for such needs. Thus, a lot of older people spend time in hospital, where, as I told BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” programme, there is unlikely to be free wifi to connect them to the outside world. The interview from this programme is below.
And the lack of digital infrastructure in care homes should be a national scandal. Those which are trying to address this, like the home in Newport which I visited last year (see video below), are all too rare.