The first time I ever saw a ‘REAL’ computer was in the 80’s just before graduating from the College of Economics and Administration. I was 19 at the time and after 4 years of studying touch-typing, typing through carbon paper to create copies, shorthand, telegram and even IT technology which meant how 1’s and 0’s work as bites.
We were shown something amazing and advanced – a real desktop computer! It was a large box, deep screen and a keyboard. We were not allowed to touch it, but they explained one important thing – ‘The slot in the middle of the box was for a floppy disc (old-fashioned kind of square DVD slot for those who do not remember). It was NOT an ashtray – very important! Smoking in the office was normal, so it was a fair assumption for us to expect an ashtray in the middle of the computer.
Fast forward a few years. I was in my 20’s and working as a secretary for a team of professionals at the Ministry of Education. My superiors were school inspectors in their 50’s. The Window’s computers were just introduced into the office and our employer provided training. The professionals really struggled. But I was feeling on the top of the world and so clever. I managed with ease to do things such as opening and closing a Word document, drag and drop and even copy and paste. My future looked bright.
Fast forward further. I am now 50 something years old and someone who really struggles with technology. It has all changed so much since the 80’s. Nowadays children see laptops and smartphones even before they can talk. As they grow, they understand social media with ease and more often than not, a lot better than their parents.
Now everybody is expected to carry a smartphone, bank online, shop online, master social media, online meetings, even to book and order things from the doctors. I cannot make sense of most of it and it is a true struggle that leaves me anxious. I see it as crazy that people nowadays just wave their debit card or their phone at the card readers on the tube gates, whilst having all their banking on the phone as well.
In the past I got used to the traditional pen and paper management. While working in the office I was in charge of the archiving. Every single paper produced in the office was kept for 7 years in an especially dedicated large room. I now try to do the same with my writings, things I found on the internet and even my open tabs on my computer and phone. I am afraid of losing something if I close them because I do not know how to find things again. I have been told this is what causes my devices to freeze or stop working.
I also struggle with passwords. I just cannot remember them. When I forgot the password to my Groundswell phone I went straight to a phone shop. I was told to throw the phone away if I did not happen to remember it as they could not help. This was extremely frightening. I was lucky, because I eventually found it. I also forgot the password to my new computer, a device I did not use for a long time because I was afraid I would not know how to use it as it was new and I was not accustomed to it. I was worried I could break it somehow.
Another issue is the way things are changing so rapidly and I am not able to keep up. Teams replacing Zoom, an application that I cannot download to my old computer, so I was forced to open the new computer, only to discover I did not know how to access the application [Teams] because I couldn’t find the password.
I am also afraid of any online storage as I do not trust it. Things can disappear or somebody may misuse my information. That is why I need devices with large storage. The problem is it always overflows. My phone stopped working properly due to full storage. My email storage is 92% full and I am getting reminders it could stop working. I have never in my life deleted an email. I am too afraid something would go wrong with the whole inbox, where I have my important documents that I struggle to find already.
However, I am lucky that I have the opportunity to come into the Groundswell office and get face to face help from my mentor, Mat. Mat had a look onto my devices. We opened my new computer and he worked out how to get a new password through forgotten passwords. So my computer can be used now. He uploaded Teams for me, so that I can use it to attend the Listen Up! meetings. It was a bit complex as Teams does not seem to like my personal email. Mat has registered me on my Listen Up! reporters email instead, something that he created for me some time ago.
He also fixed my Telegram app on my phone that had stopped working, so I can now see what is happening and communicate with others on the Listen Up! project via it. He also copied all my phone photos and recordings on to an external disk, so I can free space to make the phone usable again.
Mat also suggested it was not a good idea to leave many tabs open and that bookmarking them was a more efficient way. As luck would have it, I have recently experienced a little computing disaster. My computer had been freezing to the point I could not open my email or download documents, so I restarted it in order to improve performance. But to my shock and horror, I pressed something wrong. My chrome did not open any of my many tabs (about 100+) that had been opened. They disappeared. I was livid. All the information collected for many years lost in my tabs, now closed! I spent 8 hours just searching my history trying to recover what I could. At the end of it I was exhausted and confused so much that I opened wrong links multiple times only to be afraid to ever close those again as more could be lost.
So the idea of learning how to use bookmarks instead suddenly seemed like a good idea. Mat has also offered to upload Telegram on my computer so that it is easier for me to put through reports for Listen Up!.
I am fortunate that I am receiving help. I have also received help with access to technology. However, there are people who struggle on their own as they do not have anyone to help them with their devices or explain how to do things and how things work.
The world seems to have gone crazy. Everything including booking NHS appointment or dealing with benefits or the council rent account requires access to internet and the ability to use it. Even booking a train ticket requires an online transaction instead of going to the train station. Going for a swim has become inaccessible to many now as there is an expectation to book and pay online instead of turning up and paying cash. And people who do not master technology or cannot afford it are left behind, unable to do basic things that were simple to achieve in the past.
Is there any solution to this, or are people just going to be more excluded and left behind? Any ideas?