As grief over my wife and son eased, I wanted to join the land of the living. I wish more seniors could reap the benefits I have
Click here for more about – Harry Leslie Smith
There’s no getting around it: I am from the class of 1923, which makes me very old. When I was a boy, people thought our technological limit was reached with the dazzling Flying Scotsman’s train engine. At the time, I probably agreed. I had seen a film of the Flying Scotsman at the pictures, which left me dizzy with envy for the passengers. I marvelled at the people who could afford to ride that locomotive and gallop between London and Edinburgh in less than eight hours. I was born into a Britain where the majority of the population didn’t have a telephone, the wireless or indoor plumbing. Now our island is interconnected with motorways, airports and the internet. The speed with which we can now communicate or impart information, swap jokes, share files and holiday snaps leaves me gobsmacked. In my lifetime, I have gone from learning Morse code to sending messages on Twitter.
‘It is hard to expect a senior citizen to be on Facebook if they can’t afford to heat their home because of the limits of their state pension.’
The internet has become our agora, the meeting place where diverse opinions can be debated alongside comments on last night’s football match. For those able to participate, it is a wonderful place to learn, speak one’s mind or relax by playing an online game. For me, being able to navigate through the internet has made my old age a less lonely place. The death of my wife and then the loss of one of my sons forced me to confront and become familiar with this new, and at first forbidding computer equipment. Simply put, as my grief over my wife and son eased, I wanted to join the land of the living and all of the diversity it offered.
My early attempts to become computer literate were hard, frustrating and comical. But I knew I would persevere because that is what I have always done when faced with difficult problems. I reasoned that if I could learn to drive an antiquated Leyland lorry during the war, the rudiments of the internet were no match for me. For some time, it was a strained tug of war but eventually I mastered the basic elements, which permitted me to go online and explore this strange and virtual universe.
Being engaged online has given me the chance to interact and share my life stories with people from different lands and cultures. It has let me experience new ideas and kept me in close contact with old friends and family, now scattered across the globe.
Unfortunately, the pleasure I have found in being connected to the internet is not an option for far too many people in the United Kingdom. Recent figures from an ONS report that 7 million people in Britain remain unconnected to the internet and 14% of the adult population have never logged on. More worrying, and what should give pause to many readers, is that although the number of seniors using the internet is increasing, only 27.3% of women over the age of 75 are actively using the internet, compared with 43% of men 75 years of age and older.
The reason why elderly female pensioners aren’t using the internet isn’t because they have a dread of new technology. It all comes down to the insurance man’s actuary table – women generally outlive their spouses. For many widowed women, their golden years are spent in the lonely preoccupation of trying to stretch their pennies into pounds. It is hard to expect a senior citizen to be on Facebook if they can’t afford to heat their home or eat a proper diet because of the limits of their state pension.
Being connected to the internet is supposed to open up new vistas for its users. It can bring the planet and all its wonders to your laptop. It allows you to interact with so many interesting people, but always from a safe distance. As you age, your health and mobility may become impaired, so having the opportunity and the finances to get online makes life less lonesome. It can make you more engaged with your community and your family. It is as important as having a telephone, a stable bank account and a bus pass. All of those elements and access to a computer can make your senior years more pleasant and worthwhile.
Everyone in this country should be part of this ever-evolving information highway, including the elderly and those on fixed incomes. I know if more seniors were able to access the internet they would be better able to voice their concerns about elder-care, the NHS and our current economic crisis.
The internet has given me something that the Flying Scotsman could never do: a chance to keep pace and still be part of the conversation with a much younger generation.
Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and at 90 an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the second world war and postwar austerity.
It was a life sacrificed through a family’s poverty, a child’s hunger and a nation’s ruin. It was a life redeemed through war. It was 1923….
Photo from Harry’s Twitter profile.
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