“Gray-hairedNet’s” Shared Wisdom

Rafael Martín
16 January, 2018
Editorial: 167
Fecha de publicación original: 11 mayo, 1999

The present is our only reality

One sure sign that the Net is maturing is that the mature are getting into it. Over the last few months we have witnessed a veritable explosion in the number of senior citizens in Spanish-speaking cyberspace. Internet courses for the elderly (anyone over 50) have produced wonderful pages with fresh and innovative perspectives both on and from the Net. The living system that contains the most information, knowledge and experience is, undoubtedly, an elderly person. The Internet is now making it possible to correct one of the most notable perversions of our present society – the waste of that repository of wisdom simply because the law puts an expiry date on people.

What has already been happening in the US over the last three years, particularly via one of its most emblematic services, SeniorNet, is now starting here with senior citizens beginning to break the taboo of technological barriers. At the two extremes of the social pyramid, the wide base is, of course, occupied by young people who have grown up surrounded by the paraphernalia of the virtual world and soaked it up naturally as though on home territory. At the top, nevertheless, there are those leaving the “production line” and finding that, from one day to the next, they are not very useful and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, that there are no social mechanisms to help them to cultivate their self-esteem in the new circles they now move in. Old people it seems must be with other old people, as though age contaminates.

One of the clichés that supports this idea is that old people know very little about new technology because they have been exposed to computers late in life. Perhaps that is true, but one glance at the pages and forums they are putting on the Net is ample proof of the fact that though they may know little about technology, they have a lot to communicate because they have a lot to say. Just a look at the II Telematics Course for Young Oldies, organised by the Callús City Council (Catalunya), is enough to rid the most sceptical of their doubts.

On the one hand, the Net gives us the chance to correct the minor personal catastrophes that the marginalisation of Senior Citizens entails and, on the other, it affords us the opportunity to become the virtual grandchildren of these “global grandparents” who use cyberspace to continue expressing themselves, meet contemporaries and share life experiences at a time when more than one person would like them holed up in the room at the end of the passage. The presence of older people should raise the tone of relationships on the Internet. Communication via computers implies a shared intelligence and we will now have the opportunity to enjoy a shared wisdom, as “Jubilonautas” (“Pensionauts”) in Spain, or their counterparts in Argentina “La Tercera no es la Vencida”, advise us. In order for this to happen we need to move on from simple web pages where they only announce their presence, to establishing networks for Senior Citizens where people are able to organise themselves on the Internet, creating clubs for sharing experience and acting in the real world thanks to digital initiatives based on their own knowledge.

These “Gray-haired Nets” are bound to play an important role in many Information Society activities. That’s why their scope and range are so important. Senior citizen organisations online will have a lot to contribute particularly in two fields, open education and creating a personal vision of what quality of life really is. At the moment, the idea of digital education as proposed by administrations and institutions now on the Net, apart from emphasising the need for multi-media content, the availability of computers and access to the Internet, are still based on the old paradigm of the relationship between those who have knowledge and are trained to impart it –teachers, lecturers, researchers, “academics”, knowledge managers (libraries and reference centres), etc. — and those who wish to obtain it. As a result, closed environments have been created –schools, colleges and universities– where individuals come to be educated –to be taught– on the basis of this relationship.

Senior networks in the context of the Internet make it possible for these medieval walls to be dynamited and for a new era of open education to begin. An education based on the exploitation of the real sources of knowledge within our society. Over the years to come, for example, there won’t be much sense in teaching or learning subjects on which we have already accumulated enough experience although they are not encapsulated in an academic body, but in Senior Citizens’ networks instead. Their role in the education process will become absolutely fundamental. We will need to design the means for ensuring that this knowledge gets into virtual classrooms via their own channels of communication, such as that coming out of La Pagina del Mayor or Aweblos, for example.

The question of quality of life is related to the opportunity that the Net can offer older people to construct the territory of their personal relationships by themselves. The marginalisation of old age is caused not only by cutting off access to social productivity (“suddenly I seem useless”) and contact with others, but also because a whole series of taboos arise around what “being old” means. The horizon is suddenly clouded with things that can and cannot be talked about and that should or should not be done. The Internet breaks down these barriers and, as occurs in other fields, makes it possible to talk, to interact, to share experiences in supposedly forbidden areas, such as sex or self-organised leisure time. Debate on these subjects, either via distribution lists or more complex systems of communication, has increased the need to make these tools available. It’s remarkable that it is in this way that many people are discovering that the concept of “useful citizen” is a label attached by officialdom, but one that can be removed very easily when one regains the faculty of speech, meeting and interacting with others. And, as many of those participating in senior forums confirm, the more gray-heads meet on the Internet the younger they feel.

Translation: Bridget King.