There was barely a world wide web at all when I got my first computer in the late 1980s. No banks, no stores, no YouTube, not even any advertising and the phrase “social media” was years from being invented.
But among the few offerings were photographs of the Moscow subway stations. I can't find that original website now (with images that took several minutes to load on the dial-up connection we all used back then) but if you've never seen how beautiful those stations are, take a look here.
Later, I got lucky in terms being prepared for our digital future. A friend had convinced CBS News to give her a couple of millions dollars to build a website for the 1996 presidential election and she hired me as managing editor.
None of us knew how to build a website yet and there were no other news websites to help us get started. The closest was that CNN was building their first website too and we freely stole ideas from each others' sites.
Meanwhile, over the next year, our engineers, coders, graphics artists and the rest of us, made mistakes but we learned from one another how websites work and we even launched on time. Successfully too.
That was almost 25 years years ago and the web has since become essential to our daily lives. Personally, I bank by mail, pay bills, get automatic reminders of when they are due. Between in-person visits, all my communication with doctors and nurses is via the internet. The pharmacy let's me know when prescriptions are due for refill.
A growing number of physical stores no longer take cash for purchases and whether we like it or not – we won't be able to stop it – banks, employers and many others are checking our online presence before doing business with or hiring us.
Plus, many people work from home which is not possible without the internet, and for all of us, there is hardly a question known to humankind the web cannot answer.
(Please don't take that as a challenge.)
My point is that even if we are not quite there yet, more and more personal and other important business is done only online and that trend will do nothing but grow leaving old people behind and in some cases, unable to get ordinary, daily business done.
Plus, only a couple of weeks ago did I realize I haven't received a yellow pages book in several years. How can anyone, without access to the internet, find a store or service they need without the web?
Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of who is not online, using several criteria, including age.
”For instance, seniors are much more likely than younger adults to say they never go online,” reports Pew. “Although the share of non-internet users ages 65 and older has decreased by 7 percentage points since 2018, 27% still do not use the internet, compared with fewer than 10% of adults under the age of 65.”
I was amused to see that no one between the ages of 18-29 is not online which helps convince me of my contention that babies are now born clutching a tiny, little cell phone in one hand.
Those numbers tell us that more than one-quarter of old people in the U.S. have no access to what is fast becoming an essential tool – right up there with things like electricity, running water, transportation, etc.
I can think of reasons elders are not online. Some are too ill to use a computer. Others can't afford one. Old people are more likely to live in rural areas where internet reception is still sketchy.
If you've been online a long time, you may not recall how intimidating the web is to use when you know nothing about it. So many families live hundreds and even thousands miles apart these days that elder family members often have no one nearby to help them learn.
And just because we old people are old people, a whole bunch of us will tell you something like, “I've lived 75 years without the internet; I don't see any reason to change that.”
The local senior center holds regularly-scheduled, free computer classes as do some libraries around the country but we're not doing enough. Twenty-seven percent of the fastest growing age group is being left out the internet age and we should change that.