Are you down with the web?

Posted on March 19, 2014 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature lady using a laptop

“The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”
John Stewart, American comedian

So, the internet is 25 years old this month. Actually, I’m a bit “belated” because its birthday was on 12 March. To my way of thinking, the internet has radically changed my life and mostly for the better. But, I’m aware that there are those among my age group –I’m (58) years old – who are either technophobes or see the internet as the Devil’s spawn. It’s time for us 50-plusers to get down with the internet and make the most of it.

The worldwide wait

OK, I agree that when British physicist Tim Berners-Lee launched the “www” in the early 1990s that it should have been called the “worldwide wait” instead of the “worldwide web.” It took so long for a page to download that you could cook dinner as the router whirred and struggled to load the desired page. That was off-putting. But now there’s broadband and we can flip between pages faster than a rat up a drainpipe.

Almost universal

But speeds picked up and so did usage. In April 2012, some 82% of adults worldwide over age 18 had used the internet compared with 14% in 1995. I’m wondering who and where that 18% is who have somehow missed out on the internet.

Some things are almost obsolete

What is fascinating is how the internet over the short period of its timeline has changed our lives. You can do almost everything you need on it: make complex travel arrangements, submit your tax return or Skype the family in Australia. It has forced a few professions to rethink their roles: travel agents are a good example. Why “Thomas Cook it” when you can internet book it?

Shopping for insomniacs

Online shopping for everything from insurance to shoes means you can shop anytime, anywhere. Don’t you love it? If you need a book to read at 3am, simply visit Amazon with your credit card in hand and have a book delivered to your Kindle in seconds. It has also saved my grace on many occasions when I’ve forgotten a birthday: cards, flowers and fantastic presents can all be purchased from the comfort of your sofa. They certainly are from mine!

Conversation killer?

Sociologists and some language teachers may argue that email and instant messaging is destroying language and slowly but surely reducing our ability to talk to each other face to face. I don’t buy into this. We all still talk to each other: our method of doing it has changed, that’s all. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it is what it is. If I had to name one bad thing the internet gave birth to, it’s conspiracy theories. But that’s just me: you’ve probably got your own internet pet hate.

Instant information

But what else is good? Well, I love online banking and I love watching music videos. I also like reading my favourite newspapers for free. But, for me, the most amazing thing about the internet is the access to information on just about any topic you can think of. Can’t remember who sang that song? Just use Shazam for an instant answer.

The ultimate democracy

Perhaps the internet’s most significant achievement is the opportunity it gives everyone to have an audience. You can self publish, sell products, blog, create a website and reveal your minute-to-minute movements via Twitter or Facebook. Even your pets can tweet: follow Bo Obama for proof!

What do you use the internet for? And what aspect of it could you not live without? And please don’t tell me you’re too old for the internet. Ivy Dean signed up for a Twitter account on her 104th birthday and Facebook has users of a similar age. Age is no excuse for not being “down” with the worldwide web.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.