I hate the term silver surfer. It sounds vaguely sleazy. In my imaginary sitcom “Silver Surfer” the lead is a Terry Thomas sort of character; a know-all brilliantined cad in bow tie or cravat and blazer, propping up the golf club bar (and played so well by Eric Idle in the Monty Python sketch) . You can guess the script –
“You know all about photographs, don’t you? Say no more, squire! Download them from the Internet, do you? Know what I mean! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more! ”
Silver surfers are defined as the over-fifties who use the internet at least once a month. That allows for a pretty broad spectrum of user and usage. No wonder then, that it is said that there are 10 million silver surfers in the UK today. Whatever you call us, older users have come a long way since the early internet days. I recall with fondness (it was around 2002) hearing about an elderly couple, Radio 4 listeners, who turned up at the BBC offices in Bristol having driven up from the West Country. They were responding to an invitation they had heard on the wireless to visit the BBC web site. I had to smile.
Now out of the closet, I admit to being in love with technology but when it fails, it is maddening, counter-productive and sometimes destructive. It is supposed to be a productivity tool but all too often it is a huge waste of time. It seems that 95% of the functionality of anything is only ever used by the 5% of users who understand it. This applies to computer software, TVs, mobile phones, washing machines, cat flaps and microwaves alike.
Thus I can understand why technology is regarded as a can’t do or won’t do by a fair proportion of greyhares. When you add fear into the equation it gets even worse. Technophobia can feel like a crippling social disease to the older person; not just because of the irrational fear that by pressing the wrong button you are going to cause your PC to implode or the Internet to melt down but by the other sort of paranoid fear that out there beyond the void, somebody or something is trying to get you.
My wife’s marvellous Aunt Betty learnt, in her late 70s, to email but she was quite categorical; under no circumstances would she surf the web. She had read too many horror stories in The Telegraph. How many people still won’t use internet banking or buy anything online because they fear having their life-savings siphoned from their bank accounts by the scammers, spammers, phishers, fakers, fraudsters, mischievous Chinese schoolboys or bogus Nigerian princes who lurk in the muddier backwaters of the internet?
So, I was heartened last month by the news of the launch of the simplicITy PC. Ignoring the typographical dog’s breakfast of a name, the idea is simplicity itself. A simple PC with just six functions and a home screen called Square One. Ha ha! If navigating the Simplicity PC is as simple as navigating the manufacturer’s web site – http://www.discount-age.co.uk/simplicity_computers – it should be a breeze to use.
The simplicity is aimed squarely at the kind of greyhares technophobe that I have in mind and offers just six options – including email, surfing and documents with video tutorials by Valerie Singleton. It is based on the free Linux operating system. It’s not cheap compared to say, a netbook PC with similar functionality but there is a definite niche in the market and I wish it luck.
As for the perils of the internet, I simply can’t imagine life without email, online banking, Google, Wikipedia, Amazon or eBay. Some people would add Facebook and Twitter to this list. Sure there is risk but, with a few sensible precautions, you can guard against it. The internet is an accessible, democratic, largely free and open resource for all comers. The downside of all this wonderment is having to deal with the pond life that inhabits its seedier corners.
For the nervous (and wise) there are several good guides to staying safe online – and the greyhares’ guide is in development. Meanwhile, I commend the site Get Safe Online as a very good place to start!