Getting People Online (Lessons from my Mother)

On my recent holiday a surprising thing happened. Two emails from my Mom.

From my Mom. Who , 9 months ago,  had never been online. I’m proud. But it’s been a difficult journey.

This post is not about having a laugh at the expense of older people online. It’s an attempt to capture some of my learnings.

There is a lot of rubbish talked about Digital by Default.  Yes – the Internet is a place that can unite us , inspire us and enable us to learn things never before possible.

But to many people their perception is the exact opposite. It’s a place where your identity gets stolen , where people monitor everything you do, and where you can get bullied.

These are my top learnings (Introduced by my Mom):

“Can I use the phone at the same time as the laptop?”

New Laptop. Decent Broadband. Introductory lesson on using the Internet by loving Son. All sorted, right? Wrong.

Digital Inclusion goes further than just giving people the kit. Any strategy we have that is based purely upon increasing access for users is a complete waste of time. It’s about digital literacy.

Getting online is a huge and scary journey for a lot of people.  Principally because of the myths we (yes, WE) have created around it. A lot of hand holding is needed – little and often.

By the way  – similar to driving lessons, giving tuition to family members will test your patience. According to my Mom “the internet has broken” at least weekly during 2012.

 “Why do I need to go to the bank on the internet? I go to the bank on the bus”

People only see the benefits of being online if it makes their life better. If it helps them do something they previously found difficult.

My Mom’s bank is currently encouraging her to use their online service. She simply doesn’t want to.

For her – going to the bank is a social experience she combines with meeting friends in town. Why would she need to do it online? Plus – internet banking can be needlessly complex.

It’s the same as housing associations or local authorities trying to get people to channel shift to online. Unless it enhances the user experience (for them – not you) then just forget it. It won’t work. It just won’t work.

 “I think I’ve got a virus again”

The very well meaning , but largely misguided , commentators on internet privacy have achieved one thing: They have terrified an entire generation of non-users into believing the INTERNET IS BAD. If Google want to refine their search engine through predicting behaviour – and it helps people like my mom cut through the noise – I’m fine with it.  Be safe online , yes , and protect our freedoms – but let us not exaggerate the risks.

 “I’m not going on Faceman – I don’t want people to know what I’m doing”

Despite the statistics – not everyone is on Facebook. In fact – a lot of people hate social networking. So lets stop pushing it to those who don’t want it.

As more of us live and share our lives online , non social networking family members face a greater chance of missing out.  When I did a Skydive over the summer and shared it online, I was getting congratulations from people who I have never met. The two people I really wanted to see it , my Mom and Dad – were excluded.

I’m really interested in services like Mindings – that aim to bring social networking to the disconnected. Far better than forcefeeding Facebook.

By the way – my Mom’s assessment of Twitter – “It’s just looks like lots and lots of lines. With people talking rubbish” – could well become the new Wikipedia definition.

 “Downton Abbey? On the laptop? Really?”

The way to get people excited about being online is to play to their interests. What do they like doing and how can online enhance that experience? Getting someone who loves TV to learn laptop controls by using iPlayer is far better than demonstrating the joys of renewing insurance.

One more thing.  About five months in I was talking with a colleague who had a breakthrough getting their 80 year old mother online by shifting from laptop to tablet. I’m not an Apple fanboy but one thing they do get is the absolute focus on customer experience rather than the technology. Usability is key.

Two days after switching my mom to my old iPad – I got this text:

That word. “Love”.

It’s what its all about.


10 thoughts on “Getting People Online (Lessons from my Mother)

  1. This is a great blog, completely spot on. These things aren’t just based on time either, my Mom has been using a computer for as long as I have, she met her fiance online but that doesn’t automatically mean that she knows what she’s doing. Every time I ask her the time while she’s using a computer she forgets she can just check the top right and she’s always berating me for “clicking things too quickly” which she believes will slow down the computer, in addition I had a text while I was in Vietnam from her panicking as she had deleted the shortcut icon to MSN Messenger accidentally and she thought this meant she had deleted her entire email account for good. Again my Mom has been using email for 15 years, time isn’t necessarily an indication of skill.

    You’re right about having to make things intuitive and enjoyable as well. My 80 year old Nan came to stay with us and she has no experience of technology whatsoever. No computer, no mobile phone, she got freeview last year when she absolutely had to because of the digital switch-over. She has no interest in technology whatsoever but when she came round and she was bored and I found an old Cary Grant film online and gave her my iPad to watch it on it blew her mind. She couldn’t fathom at all what was happening or how it was happening. I couldn’t even contextualise it for her as she had no common reference points, she never even owned a VHS player. It was as close as I could get to magic, it was great to see how happy it made her.

  2. Thanks Thom – you are bang on to point out that digital literacy isn’t time based. People who are light or occasional users will never develop as fast as the constant changes and updates some of us get used to. We could get the UK online but that doesn’t mean people will have confidence – almost a new variant of digital exclusion developing. PS – love the story about your Nan and Cary Grant!

    1. Thanks Susan – I was just talking to her on the phone and nearly told her that so many people have passed on positive comments. But I didn’t want to admit I had blogged her progress. Maybe tomorrow….

  3. totally agree! you have to find something they want to do, the boring eGov stuff will follow once they get the hang of it. Online banking and shopping is great, but only once we have lost our fear. I too have found that tablets are the way to go in engaging the fearful. The internet isn’t about computers, its about using it by any gadget. Once smart tvs are the norm it will become second nature because it will be easy, and easy is the key word. At the moment it seems too difficult to many, unless they have a nice son. Or daughter.

    1. Absolutely Chris. I was talking to a friend recently whose Father (digitally excluded) was distraught at the end of Ceefax. As you say , once Smart TV’s are the norm , and broadband speeds are acceptable , we might have a chance of getting more people enjoying life online. It needs to be as easy as Ceefax. Thanks for taking the time to comment

  4. A great post about the journey to online confidence, when at mentoring learndirect we used to try to discover what would interest each learner and motivate them to get and stay online, at Gransnet Local we are also providing a social network for the over 50’s.

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