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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 08:43 GMT
Silver surfer discovers the web
Aileen Aldred, BBC
Aileen Aldred: Exploring a new world
Alfred Hermida

For many elderly people in Britain, computers and the internet are a mystery. Latest official figures show that only one in 10 of those over 65 years old are online.

But for one elderly British woman, an early Christmas present of a Sony laptop from her stepson, computer consultant Bill Thompson, has opened up a whole new world.

I had never ever used a computer at all. I was absolutely terrified of them

Aileen Aldred
"I found it easier than I expected and I wasn't quite as terrified when I got it turned on," 66-year-old Aileen Aldred told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"It was so beautiful when it was on, all I wanted to do was sit and look at it."

'Absolutely terrified'

As the UK Government puts more services online and many companies increasingly rely on their online presence, they are leaving behind a whole generation who did not grow up with computers and regard them with awe and a little fear.

Internet use in Britain by age
16 to 24: 87%
25 to 44: 69&
45 to 54: 58%
55 to 64: 37%
65 and over: 11%

Source: Office of National Statistics
"I had never ever used a computer at all. I was absolutely terrified of them," said Aileen.

She was shown how to use the laptop by her stepson Bill Thompson. He found it a time-consuming process, but not because Aileen was slow to learn.

"It wasn't the training, that was fine," he said.

"I turned the laptop on and I thought I'll just set up all the software. It took me three hours to get to the point that I felt comfortable with letting them use it.

"This is one of the big problems for anyone who is new to computers," he explained.

"It's not so much that using the web is hard, because it isn't. It is that when you turn on your computer for the first time, there is so much stuff you have to do, it's a real barrier."

Generation gap

Many elderly people see the internet and computers as a way of sharing points of interest with the younger generation.

Sony Vaio, Sony
Sony Vaio: Early Christmas present
"The grandchildren seem to use them so easily just perhaps as I would use the telephone," said Aileen. "They used it so easily that I thought maybe I could do that too.

"Or at least I could keep up with them. They were talking about things that I no idea of at all."

Like most pensioners who use the internet, Aileen is concentrating on using it to keep in touch with friends and relatives.

"I've actually done an e-mail to Bill and it did take me a long while to do it. I'm going to try and do some more e-mails. I'm concentrating on that," said Aileen.

Studies have shown that once the elderly discover the internet, most find it an empowering and liberating experience.

Web horizons

As her confidence builds, Aileen Aldred intends to branch out into the world of online shopping as this is something which is particularly attractive to people her age.

"I intend to get everything on file, such as all my menus, my addresses. And I hope to do shopping because when you're not quite as mobile as you used to be, I'll still be able to shop."

The number of elderly people in the UK using the internet is still vastly outnumbered by people in their twenties. A combination of apprehension and cost tend to deter many.

Over the last 12 months the number of silver surfers in the UK has grown by only 1%.

Aileen has some advice for people like her who may be scared by technology.

"I'd say have a go. I'm so excited that I can't wait to master everything."

Aileen Aldred
It was easier than I expected
See also:

20 May 00 | UK
Silver surfers boom
11 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Some Britons still refuse to surf
28 Mar 01 | Business
More than half of Britons log on
09 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Sex and chips lose out to computer
18 Dec 01 | UK
Women catch up on net use
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