At least 4.5 billion people are online – that’s more than half the world’s population and yet, as the online community keeps growing by more than 875,000 new users each day, not all older Australians are thrilled about getting on board.
Ask around, and you’ll uncover someone’s pain at being pushed into unwanted digital enablement as technology changes the way we experience most aspects of our lives at a startling pace.
Covid-19 restrictions last year highlighted how there has never been a better time to connect digitally – and how difficult that was for many seniors.
Sunshine Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group president, 82-year-old Rob Tonge, says the pandemic brought to a head the attitudes within his group towards modern technology.
There are 500 members on the books, but only 20 took the plunge and joined the Zoom video conference when monthly meetings were forced to go online.
It was always going to be a tough sell, as one-third of the group refuse to use computers: “Most members said it was too hard, and we don’t want to know about it,” Rob says.
Zoom has been a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings that drew 90 to 110 members at a time, and lost opportunities for Rob and his support team to personally welcome new visitors and their partners.
Rob, too, is uncomfortable with aspects of digital technology and says, “I don’t want to live my life through a computer – so many passwords to remember.
“A whole sector of the community is being pushed up against a wall to use computers.”
He’s content using a basic phone with big buttons and a large, easy to read display. He limits it to making and receiving calls as he finds texting tedious and text reminders even more annoying.
“If I make an appointment and say I’m going to be there, I’ll be there,” Rob says. “I’ve given my word, isn’t that enough?”
He’s also very committed to his members. With help from his wife Barbara, and a tech savvy friend, he’s prepared to master an online booking system so face-to-face meetings can quickly resume as Covid restrictions ease.
Research supports the idea that seniors are a curious lot and desire digital inclusion rather than risk being left behind.
YourLink, an organisation improving the quality of life for seniors through access to, and confidence with technology, in 2019 surveyed 600 older Australians who shared their views and experiences of technology.
Aptly named The Digital Paradox for Seniors, the report found seniors are not short on energy and passion for experiences that open up the digital world to them. But getting a device into their hands is not enough – personal connection is key, and a human experience essential to facilitate learning.
Burnie Brae, a not-for-profit organisation based in Chermside, offers a wide range of care and community services for seniors.
Free classes have been on offer since 2010 in basic internet and computer skills. They’re booked up two to three weeks in advance and have become so popular that the centre has trained 40 more digital mentors.
Those who sign up come to the centre with their smart device – laptop, smartphone or tablet – for a one-hour, one-on-one tutoring session, then rebook for four or five more.
Head of Burnie Brae’s project management team, Dr Sharon Hetherington, says the majority bring in a new device that they have purchased.
“The desktop computers don’t get used for tutoring anymore but they do get used for internet access,” she says. “Help with internet banking is a regular request.”
The team developed an aggressive digital strategy during the Covid lockdown last year to keep clients and members connected to the centre.
Brian Ash, 77, says his fitness improved considerably during the shutdown when he and wife Lorelle joined the Exercise Right for Active Ageing (ERAA) program run by exercise psychologists on the Zoom platform.
They were already regulars of the centre’s gym and were computer literate enough to download the Zoom app to their new desktop computer. They then hooked up a HDMI digital interface cable from the computer to broadcast the display on their TV screen.
“When the Zoom sessions first started, I said to Lorelle, ‘it seems a bit wussy’,” Brian says. “But now it’s real to me, and all I need at home is a chair, a resistance band, hand weight, or a tin of baked beans.
“The beauty of technology is once you support it there’s so much more you can use it for in your everyday life.”
The gym has reopened, but the centre continues to run two, 30-minute ERAA sessions a week via Zoom.
Kevin Day, 92, attends respite at Burnie Brae. He received a tablet from the respite manager when the centre closed. First attempts at using it were troublesome but were soon sorted with some personal help.
Kevin and his wife can’t always book into the respite centre due to continued restrictions on numbers. When they can attend, social distancing is in place, so Kevin is more than happy to continue with a “clever idea”.
From the comfort of their living room, the tablet connects the couple to gentle morning exercise sessions and to entertainers who visit the centre once a week.
“The exercises are done sitting down and keep your mind and your body a little bit active,” Kevin says. “If the respite manager is good enough to go to all this trouble to help old people, I’m going to be good enough to use it.”
Esme Mews is in her 70s and says when fitness classes moved online she was surprised at how Zoom opened up the world for her.
“Although they were virtual, I still found them motivating,” she says. “It was a reassurance that people were still around.”
Esme was soon keen to find other fitness exercises on popular video sharing website YouTube. During the height of the pandemic, she held ladies fellowship meetings on Zoom and even a Sunday morning church service.
Personalised customer service has taken a big hit in the digital age. In the online world, self-service means finding what you want on your own – and it has flourished in a contactless Covid world.
You can plough through FAQs (frequently asked questions) on websites for instant answers to common queries, but what if your particular question isn’t there? There’s probably a help@ or support@ email address, but what if you haven’t time to wait for a reply?
Businesses operating in the modern customer service industry know that and are phasing out this old technology for chatbots.
Chatbots are an automated, online, text-based technology that can provide quick and accurate answers to common customer queries. They’re sophisticated and mimic human conversation, but they’re not human.
YourLink recently conducted a short survey of their mailing list of clients to learn from which main services seniors felt excluded.
From close to 100 respondents, who predominantly lived independently, 78 per cent said they felt excluded from accessing government services; 72 per cent from finance and banking; and 66 per cent from public safety information.
Only 30 per cent felt excluded from retail, as the choice to shop in person and enjoy the independence of a real-world experience is still widely available.
Director and co-founder of YourLink, Richard Scenna, says there needs to be a greater awareness by government that, as it transitions more of its resources and services online, seniors are feeling left behind.
“The whole of community including aged care providers of home care have a part to play,” he says. “Family and friends are the ones meant to be supporting, and they’re well intentioned, but people aren’t available when they’re needed.
“If someone has a mobile phone and a child overseas they want to video call, and they’re not comfortable with that, all they need is a couple of moments of someone showing them how to push that button,” Mr Scenna said.
Help a loved one go online
Free, easy-to-use lessons on this website provide step-by-step help to get older Australians started with technology.
From online shopping to making video calls, these simple lessons cover everything from the absolute basics of using a device, to staying safe, informed and entertained online.
Find out how the Get Started app can assist, or find local support on offer through the Be Connected network of community organisations.
Forgot your password?
A password manager is the safest way to keep track of your passwords, as they allow you to use stronger passwords without needing to memorise anything. Security experts generally recommend using a password manager to protect yourself online.
BY THE NUMBERS
Seniors struggle to access these services online:
- Government agencies
78 per cent
- Finance and banking
72 per cent
- Public safety information 66 per cent