Older Jewish man in front of a computer

Tech talk

A growing number of people over the age of 65 are enjoying the benefits of living in a time when technology is an essential part of modern culture.  In fact, the 2017 report entitled Internet Access - Households and Individuals found that 51% of people in this age group used the Internet on a daily basis. By contrast, that number was only 9% in 2006. These trends will more than likely continue as members of the tech savvy workforce reach retirement age.

However, many people in this portion of the population are still reluctant to jump into the digital age. If you're part of this group, your justification could include any—or all—of the following reasons:

  • Cost - especially if you have a fixed budget or limited savings;
  • Physical limitations (like declining vision or limited hand dexterity) - which could make it difficult to use devices that rely on these abilities; or
  • Lack of interest - you may be wary about using computers or other technology, particularly when it means learning an entirely new set of skills. 

Manufacturers and software developers are being encouraged to create a diverse range of products that addresses these issues. These aim to help you, or an older person you know, embrace the latest tech tools!

Why should I be a silver surfer? 

Being online offers many ways for you to stay connected both in person and in the cyber world.  Whatever your interests and hobbies, it is highly likely that you will be able to find many resources that you might not have known about otherwise. Ideally, these resources will enable you to contact other devotees.  While none of the suggestions offered here are endorsements, they may give you insight into how you could enjoy what the Web has to offer.  

Tech connects people

From Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, social networking websites have many benefits.  In recent years, Facebook has become a popular way of keeping in contact with family and friends.  LinkedIn can help you get—and stay—in touch with work colleagues and perhaps open up potential opportunities—both paid and voluntary.  Twitter offers a bit of both, but also keeps you on top of trending subjects in the world around you.

Additionally, there are a handful of online services that can connect you with other people who may have similar life experiences.  My Boomer Place brings together people who are over 60 years old.

Tapestry is a social media platform that connects families and local communities. Using a simple and intuitive website layout, it gives you a single point of access to a range of Web-based services like email and Facebook. 

Tech explores interests

There are many networks that focus on specific hobbies that may appeal to you. For example, Ravelry is devoted to knitting, and BakeSpace is a place to exchange recipes and ideas with other foodies.  For even more Web connections to other areas of interest, visit our coverage on Being creative.

The Internet also provides ways to stay in touch with the Jewish community and culture.  The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News, Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post are some of the popular news outlets that are available on the Web.  You can even listen to abridged versions of The Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News each week.

Finally, if you would like to explore the Jewish faith and its history more closely, the Jewish Virtual Library is a good place to start. It offers authoritative accounts of subjects relevant to the past and present. 

Alternatively, for advice on the day-to-day aspects of Jewish practice, values and life, Chabad.org is a useful resource to keep on top of religious and spiritual matters. 

How do I go online?

There are organisations across the UK that can help you get the most out of computers.  Here are some of the different national schemes to consider:

  • Age UK has teamed up with local organisations to provide basic IT Training.
  • Digital Unite can help you  develop computer skills in various ways.  Its Website hosts an online community where you can access factsheets on hundreds of computer-related topics, share your knowledge with others and ask questions. The organisation also has a network of trained tutors who will come to your home. These tutors can help you with any problems you may be experiencing with personal computers, tablet computers, smartphones and smart televisions. Digital Unite also organises Spring Online.  This annual event aims to bring thousands of people into contact with computers for the first time.  During Spring Online, libraries, community centres and other local public spaces host taster sessions where you can try out the latest technologies.
  • UK Online Centres Network is a network of about 5,000 centres set up to  help people  learn about computers and access the Internet. Partner organisations work there to increase digital inclusion for the most socially excluded people in the country.  There is even a Specialist Older People Network dedicated to providing support for especially isolated members of the community. Like Digital Unite, the UK Online Centres Network has produced its own Web page of resources which you can access on its Learn My Way website.  

Keep in mind there may be other organisations in your local area.  Check your libraries and schools to see what might be available.

Simple software

Choosing the right software depends on several things, but making your decision is usually based on the answer to one simple question: how do you want to use technology? And if you already have a desktop computer or tablet, there are several software applications that will enhance the interface of your device. Here are a few options to investigate:

  • Eldy allows you to do a bit more than email and instant messaging with an enhanced—but simple—menu for navigation. The software can be installed on any Windows, Mac or Linux computer and replaces standard menu systems with a simple six button interface.  Eldy provides access to email, web browsing, word processing, photo viewing software, a chat service and even weather forecasting along with several customised applications. You can also talk to family and friends over the Skype Internet telephone service.  Eldy is free of charge.
  • Mindings will help you share pictures, messages, calendar reminders and other content with family and friends.  The on-screen menu is navigated by touch with a simple big button interface.  You can use it on tablet devices and both laptop and desktop computers.  
  • PawPawMail is another service that can help you use the Internet to communicate with others when conventional menu systems and interfaces pose a challenge.  This is a US based email provider that offers simplified menus and comes with enlarged text and large, high contrast buttons that can help if you have special vision or dexterity requirements.

User-friendly computers 

If you don’t already own a computer and do not feel you would be comfortable using a mainstream device such as an iPad, there are a few purpose-built desktop computers and tablets which might be more suitable. 

  • Breezie is a tablet computer developed by  Age UK.  It is based on a Samsung Galaxy tablet but comes with a simple interface and subscriptions to services that will support you while you use it. Breezie comes  with content and services that match your interests and hobbies. The device also allows you to use simplified versions of popular communication tools like Skype. 
  • Synapptic is another provider of a range of tablet-based devices with simple interfaces. If you have a visual impairment, this may be a good option. With easy  to  follow menus, the device has large, high  contrast text along with audio feedback that can be customised to suit your needs. It also allows you to change the magnification, colour scheme and voice that reads any text aloud for you.  Synapptic offers multiple entertainment options including the  BBC iPlayer app, a music player and Freeview TV. 

Easy mobile phones 

Mobile phones have become one of the most widely used technologies over the past two decades.  However, their tiny buttons and small screens may have prevented you from taking advantage of their convenience.  In recognition of these obstacles, mobile phone makers have designed devices with accessible handsets and tailored software so you can use them even if you do have limited vision or dexterity.           

  • Age Co (the rebranded products and services division of Age UK) has a review of the best mobile phones for the elderly which looks at different features and priorities.
  • OwnFone is a very basic phone that's good if you have no need for a smartphone (or can't use one).  Since it's customised for you, it allows you to call only the people you want to reach. You can even design your own phone with pre-programmed numbers, pictures and colours  and choose the style either online or at the company’s shop in London, where you can watch it being created by a 3D printer. 
  • RNIB’s online shop offers a selection of the latest mobile phones that are adapted for people with visual impairments.  This is another good place to start if you are unsure about your options. 

Which technology is right for me?

With so many kinds and makes of devices, how do you choose? Here are a few key questions you should ask yourself, keeping in mind that some factors may be more crucial than others.

How important is accessibility? Some devices can be easier or more difficult to use, depending on their accessibility options. If you're not sure what you need, why not visit a local tech store to check out PCs, tablets and smartphones? You can also stop by a Karten Network Centre (like Jewish Care Explore) to try some accessibility tools.

What will you use the technology for? Smartphones are a great choice if you’d mainly like to chat (either by voice or video) or send short messages (either as texts or emails). Tablets have larger screens and are really good for browsing the Internet and watching videos; they're also fine for writing texts or emails. Laptops have a keyboard and are even better for writing longer texts, using spreadsheets, creating documents, working with photographs and playing less graphically demanding games. Desktop personal computers (PCs) have the most processing power and can be used for demanding tasks such as editing videos and running more complex programs and games. 

Do size and weight matter to you? Devices with larger screens are easier to read and more pleasant to work with but tend to be heavier. Because of this, it’s important to consider whether you’d mainly like to use your device at home or take it with you on your adventures. Smartphones and small tablets are the easiest to carry but have small screens; desktop PCs are the most comfortable to use but aren’t portable at all. Laptops and larger tablets fall somewhere in-between.

What is your budget? There’s a very wide range of prices when it comes to devices; it’s well worth trying out different kinds and, if you're unsure, ask for advice. You can save hundreds of pounds by picking something that suits your needs exactly rather than selecting something that's unnecessarily powerful—and too expensive. It's helpful to be realistic about what you plan to spend from the very beginning.

Who do you want to communicate with? Picking a device similar to one that your friends and family have will make it easier for you to get help from them. In the case of smartphones and tablets, the two major types are Android and iOS (made by Apple). With laptops and desktop PCs, the two largest categories are Windows and Mac (Apple) machines. Most people are familiar with one or the other, but not both. 

How much do you want to learn? Generally speaking, laptops and PCs are more complex and require more skill to use and maintain than tablets. However, with the right skills (or support), you can usually fix or upgrade them a bit more easily. By contrast, a faulty tablet might well be impossible to fix.

You can find more detailed guidance on how to choose a computer on Digital Unite’s website.

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