Seniors’ moment: how the elderly can embrace the internet

We didn’t all grow up ‘surfing the web’. Here’s how to help less tech savvy seniors connect to the internet and thrive online.

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Once seniors learn to embrace the internet, there are endless possibilities beyond the wide web horizon. Here’s how you can help.

Teaching a senior member of the family to use the internet can be a tougher task than it seems. For those of us that grew up with Google seemingly forever at our fingertips, it’s almost impossible to remember when logging onto the internet seemed a puzzling proposition.

Now more than two decades on from when the internet became a household mainstay, many parents and grandparents who put off connecting online are now reconsidering. In some cases, they’re needing to adapt on a professional front by connecting their small businesses to an online community, hoping to squeeze out a superannuation-boosting last few years of work. For this age group, researching family history is also a popular pursuit.

For others reaching retirement age, they vowed that at this time in their lives, they would finally learn to embrace the internet.

Whatever the reason, being online opens up a range of possibilities for the elders of society, including, but not limited to, the ability to connect more easily with the outside world.

Giving advice: what is the best approach?

At this point, it’s worth parking your expectations and beginning from scratch. Over a quarter of Australians (27 percent) don’t have any digital literacy, which was defined as going online no more than a single time per month. There’s also an obvious correlation with age too, as more than 75 percent of the “digitally disengaged” are over the age of 70, according to a recent Australian study.

Predictably, the older you are, the less likely you are to be internet savvy. 11 percent of those aged over 50 don’t have any internet access at their home at all, but on the other end of the scale, double that figure (22 percent) were classified as ‘highly literate’ on the internet. Those members of the ‘highly literate’ are not likely to need this advice.

Setting expectations

For the inexperienced, the internet is an overwhelmingly vast expanse. It’s always good to start a project like this with the simple question: “What are you are hoping to do on the internet?”

If it’s to access the online news, browse reviews and write emails, you might be able to get away with a plan that is no more than a few GBs. If it’s to binge Downton Abbey on Netflix, you will have to look for a more data-heavy plan.

To accommodate moderate streaming and browsing, Home Basic or Home Standard nbn™ plans would prove a suitable choice.

Accessibility and the Internet of Things

Despite the 2001: Space Odyssey comparisons, the emergence of Siri on iPhone or Google Assistant on Androids have leapfrogged some accessibility problems for the older audience on smaller tasks. The answers to questions such as: ‘where is the closest hairdresser?’, ‘what time does the AFL match start tonight?’, and ‘what is the weather tomorrow?’ are now literally a few words away.

Similarly, the Internet of Things has simplified the online experience outside of computers. You do not need to push a button to turn on smart lights and smart televisions, as well as asking for help with recipes via a Google Hub or iPad.

In the case of tablets and smartphones, the average person can forget just how customisable they are. On these devices, font sizes can be enlarged and settings can be switched to options like vibrate over audio.

On rideshare apps, location sharing can be made mandatory with a specified user, so that the vulnerable can feel that little bit safer. That leads to another point, which is the unfortunate reality that over-70-year-olds are the most vulnerable to security breaches online.

Cyber safety: steering clear of scammers

A lot of the older demographic’s internet apprehensions are due to security concerns, with over three quarters of over-50-year-olds noting that they are worried about being hacked or taken advantage of if they engage more online.

What is common sense to most Australians, due to their exposure to scams dating as far back as the “Nigerian letter”, is uncharted waters for the elderly. Preaching careful caution is the best advice.

Connect together

Like anybody that has taken up something new, encouragement breeds confidence. It’s a tired trope that the elderly ‘don’t know what they’re doing online’, but it’s a stereotype that can certainly be harmful.

Thanks to the increased assistance of the Australian government, as well as non-government organisations like the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA), this generation can be better prepared than ever.

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