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Rise Of The Silver Surfer

Rise Of The Silver Surfer

September 04, 2010

The amount of older people using the internet is growing, but is this true of NRI communities?

We’ve all become heavily reliant on the internet. It has, for most of the world, become the backbone of everyday life - with daily messages running like nerves in a global body. We network, socialise, date, shop and work through it – and there are very few areas of life left that don’t rely on it. Although the phenomenon now seems common place, the notion of fast-speed broadband was simply a fantasy for most of us about twenty or so years ago. So much has changed and revolutionised in a very short space of time. Along with this, we also hold the general idea that it’s the younger generation (define that how you will) that seems to benefit most from its growth. Recent statistics even went far enough to suggest that it’s teenage girls make up the largest demographic of internet users, which would explain the general assumptions between young people and technology.

Chasing this group, quite rapidly are the elderly. This group hasn’t been defined in any concrete terms, but it’s fair to assume we’re talking about people no longer in full time employment (for reference). Quite a predictable trend you may suspect, elderly people have spare time, so why not get online and start searching for old buddies, amongst other things? In the west, we may assume most people have a natural inclination to do this, this group of people see everyone around them using technology to enhance their lives, so why shouldn’t they. Facebook groups have been set up for Bingo, Knitting groups and other social movements. Couple have also formed and the economy has been enhanced by internet shopping. Think of all those little old women sitting in Welsh cottages needing get hold of Organic Ginseng tea, what better method than the internet. I wonder if we can expect to see the same thing in India or in a similar context within NRI communities.

There are two distinct concerns here. Let’s look at the first idea, that of technology in India. My aim here isn’t to raise the issue of internet access to all remote regions of India. That is a different post in its own right. We’ve seen the fast spread of mobile and social technology in India, so I’m sure it will be very soon when fast speed broadband becomes available to all residential districts (ironically, whether full time electricity will be available is another concern – big business for back-up services I suppose). Let’s then look to a near future and imagine an India where even the most rural stretches of India have broadband (and that any mobile technology hasn’t been banned). The elderly will only utilise it if they have the inclination, but will they? If it prevents long commutes to markets they may be able to stop making excessive journeys – but then what will this mean for traders? Those selling fresh produce who solely rely on footfall for example. Will this also inspire a range of free-educational classes for the elderly; perhaps translating QWERTY to all regional dialects, explaining the joys of mailboxes and how to access video and music at one’s fingertips. It’s a positive vision if it can be realised. The main concern however, will be translating the messages to the already illiterate mass. Could this spiral a new technological and social revolution of sorts? And if people fail to recognise characters on a page, will they spot them on a keyboard. The argument is that if a growing amount of young people are becoming so efficient with new technology in technology based colleges – then it shouldn’t be long before this catches on with other groups in society around them. 

On the same idea of education, we can look at the elderly NRI community around the globe. I’ll have to take immediate examples as a point of reference. When speaking to fellow NRIs, they often mention how their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc are gradually beginning to utilise the internet. It’s a new form of emancipation for many. They check religious services abroad, read regional news from their home town. In general they feel more in touch with the technological growth that has spread in the world around them. But if this is the reality for some, why isn’t it for others? When offering to teach computing to my father, he shied away. I couldn’t understand this, as I’ve wanted to him to see how satellite maps, news and social networking could be fascinating for him. It would also allow him to understand why we’re always glued to our little machines. The mystery was partially resolved when a cousin from India came to stay; he explained the joys of the internet to my father (though perhaps with a unique Punjabi charm that I failed to muster). Now my father’s constantly asking for status updates on people we know abroad, so perhaps we were just lost in translation. My father, hasn’t however, taken the plunge and starting using a computer whole heartedly. Will he ever? This is a needs/must issue. As long as the younger generation keep supporting the older, they may never bother – but if operating independently and left to their own devices – they’ll just have to bite the bullet.

Most NRIs today, will be fortunate enough to be living in cosmopolitan communities. They should be made aware that their regional councils offer adult education to cater to various ethnic communities. I still don’t know all there is to know about computers, so it’s encouraging to know that there are still viable routes to learn, you’ve just got to want to do it. It may be some time before I’m firing off emails to my parents – but it’s an encouraging thought to know that millions are already doing so. 

1 Comment

  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    04.09.10 11:46 PM
    Some older folks just won't have anything to do with it, whether Indian or not. My grandmother is in her mid-80's and I've tried to get her to at least have an email account for years. She just flat-out balks at the idea. They even teach basic computer skills to others in her residence for the elderly, but all she wants to do is play bingo.

    I do wonder what it is that has one oldster eagerly logging into Facebook, and another acting like the computer is some evil from beyond space and time that is best just avoided.

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