Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not sure whether Age UK is actively ageist or just profoundly patronising to older people


I'm sure that the young people who designed the campaign mean well. After all the brief tells you that most of the 'digitally excluded' are elderly so surely anything that celebrates and champions old folk becoming 'digitally included' is brilliant. Isn't it?

So let's have an award - Age UK Digital Champion of the Year:

We want to hear from you if:
  • your newfound digital skills have taken you on an unexpected adventure
  • the internet has helped you re-connect with a long-lost family member or make new friends
  • the internet has allowed you to stay active and improved your quality of life.
  • you know someone that this applies to.
Finalists will be chosen based on their digital experiences and how their stories can inspire and encourage other older people to make the digital leap.

And Age UK have an age range:

Age UK is conducting a UK-wide search to find an inspiring person (age 55+) to champion the benefits of all things digital to others in later life.

Now I've not (quite) reached the venerable age of 55 yet but I know a lot of people who have reached this milestone. And quite a lot of them - nearly all of them, in fact - are in some sort of work or are active in some way or other. Those over 55s who need encouraging to take the 'digital leap' own laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs. They make use of the bewildering array of gizmos, gadgets and apps that these technologies allow - from using Skype to talk to people through to playing Carcassone on their iPhone.

In my social media (and virtual) travels I meet older people using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What's App, LinkedIn - every tool you can think of has older people out there using it. The Internet - were it not for kittens - would soon fill up with carefully edited photo albums featuring the travel experiences of retired folk. And I'm pretty sure if I look a little closer there are people over 55 creating new stuff - you know, Age UK folk, older people actually writing software and building new apps for us to play with.

So why is it that Age UK - and for that matter most charities and public agencies - treat anyone over the age of 55 as if they're as utterly daffy as Wolfie Smith's mum? That somehow, when the great age is reached we need to have stuff explained to us short words...because we've lost the intelligence and faculty we had just a few hours earlier.

Age UK, for all its good work (or rather the good work of its local groups that don't, you'll be interested to learn, get any of that cash you donate to the national body) is trapped in a view of the elderly that was pretty patronising back in the 1970s but today is more anachronistic than Nigel Farage's style of dress. It really is time such organisations recognised that the over 55s represent approaching a third of the population and that most of these people continue to contribute a great deal. Not by shakily serving a cup of tea to some other old folk at a lunch club but by running things, organising things and generally being in charge quite a lot.

Age UK. Most people over 55 are not drooling idiots in need of some champion to encourage them to get online but are already there - in their millions. Maybe you need to think harder about how to portray old people?


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