‘ Silver Surfers?’

Victor Keegan writes a weekly column on technology in The Guardian and the following is an edited part of his contribution last week.

‘Silver surfers, defined as internet users over the age of 65, spend more time on the web than any other group, according to the annual report of Ofcom, the communications regulator.
Good. Now let’s get rid of them: not the people, the phrase. It is as patronising as it is counterproductive to call someone a silver surfer, conjuring up a picture of granny actually being able to type a few words into Google and then press carriage return all on her own. A lot of today’s over-65s, let alone the over-50s, lived through the personal computer revolution of the early 1980s, either actively themselves or through their children. Now, with more time on their hands and in many cases more money, they are the natural beneficiaries of the innovations that are now sweeping the web.

Yet there is still a lot to be done. Over-50s may account for nearly 30% of all time spent online, but they represent 41% of the population. So they are still badly under-represented.
Older people don’t want a ghetto created for them that says “If you are old, come here”: that would make social isolation from the rest of the world self-fulfilling. They do want to keep up with old friends, but they also want to make contact with other people of whatever age with whom they share a common interest. Age may be something you have in common but it is not a common interest.

Social sites also offer tantalising political opportunities. A third of people eligible to vote are over 55, and they are twice as likely to vote as younger people. Networks that have the potential to attract millions of members who can be contacted instantly, offer a possible solution to the age-old difficulty of organising older people.

Think what a debate over the size of the old-age pension would be like if millions of older people formed an online lobby to influence the government, threatening to switch their votes.’

An interesting perspective. But as an ageing computer-user, I resist the idea of being organized! Keegan’s article was followed by over 40 comments, some of which were illuminating and informed and others derisive and foolish. (What is it that makes some people want to post up daft things?!)But there seemed to be agreement that no one wants to be known as a silver surfer. Including me.