In this new blog section we are inviting people connected with Cambridge Online to share digital inclusion stories.  The first blog is contributed by Tom Dutton, a Cambridge Online Digital Champion who has been volunteering for us since July 2016:

My mum is in her eighties, in good health and sharp as a nail.  She grew up in an age when good handwriting was valued, when letters sent and received by post underpinned a relationship and when personal contact with banks, shops and people in general was the only ‘real’ way to interact in society.

So you can imagine my astonishment when my brother finally persuaded her to buy a laptop so that she could keep in touch with him using Skype.  What’s more, she mastered the art of switching it on and logging into Skype. She even tried using Google search and seemed to be quite content with her new-found skills. I was even thinking that maybe she might take her mobile phone out of its plastic zip bag and start to use texts.

And then she started to receive personalised adverts……

Although my brothers and I tried to assure her that this is perfectly normal when you use the internet, she became increasingly convinced that somehow or other these companies were spying on her whilst she was using her laptop. “How do they know that I’m a pensioner?” “They’re not going to get anything out of me!” “There’s definitely something fishy here – I only looked very quickly at the winter clothing sale and now I’ve got all these companies after my money” You get the picture!

She found it hard to cope with the transience of the internet – the messages that can be created and then deleted before you can take your next breath; the sometimes abrupt way that people communicate nowadays which reflects the speed at which we all work, leaving little time for niceties and the openness of communications – the sharing of information which in the past would have been kept private.

Eventually, the laptop fell out of favour and became yet another thing to dust every day. It sits proudly beside the record player – two pieces of clever technology separated by decades yet sharing the same space in her living room. She will not be persuaded to use it again and, instead, has reverted to telephone calls and sending cards and letters through the post.

It struck me that it is one thing to teach someone the mechanics of using digital technology but quite another to help them (perhaps for a long time afterwards) to understand what it means to live in a digital society and help them thrive in what is now a radically different culture. Without that understanding and support, we will inevitably have many more laptops sitting in pride of place as a prized ornament in people’s living rooms.

Tom Dutton