silver surfers

5 ways the internet can improve your life after 50

When I was much younger I used to consider 60 as the dividing line between middle and old age. Needless to say, as I grew older so my goalposts moved. I aim to live and thrive for years to come. I am grateful to be able to use the power of the internet and experience its benefits as I get older.  I am not alone – millions of older adults are finding that their lives are enhanced by using the internet.

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The rise of “silver surfers”

It has only been 25 years since the World Wide Web was introduced to the public and in that time it has become part of everyday life for more than half the population of the world. The term “surfing the Internet” was coined as far back as 1992 by a university librarian, Jean Armour Polly. She had written an article and was looking for a title. She said “I weighed many possible metaphors. I wanted something that expressed the fun I had using the Internet, as well as hit on the skill, and yes, endurance necessary to use it well.” She was using a mouse pad at the time that pictured a surfer on a big wave. It said “Information Surfer” and this gave her the inspiration she needed. A metaphor was born that caught on and is still being used.

Most of us have heard about the fictional superhero, The Silver Surfer, of Marvel comic book fame. The term “Silver surfers”, on the other hand, is now used to refer to those of us over the age of 50 who use the internet consistently.  I like the term as it conjures up an adventurous ride through dangerous waters – so much better than being called a senior citizen and way better than being regarded an “oxygen guzzler” or a “wrinkly” who is “over the hill”.

Learn to use it or be left behind

For our children who grew up with the current technology, they cannot understand the challenge it presents for those of us who did not.  I grew up with typewriters, tipex and landlines. In those days I could not have even imagined backspacing to delete a mistake, carrying a phone around with me wherever I went and not having to press carriage return after every sentence.

In the early 2000s, the internet became an integral part of our social interactions with platforms like Facebook and Twitter becoming popular.  The online and offline worlds were becoming increasingly connected and as this happened, I think the realization began to dawn that the internet was not going anywhere. It was a case of learning how to use it or being left behind. At first the idea was intimidating but I knew I had to get my feet wet or I would never make it into the deep water. It was not difficult to pick up the basic skills. For those who resist learning them, it’s usually more about their mindset than anything else. Resistance born out of fear can prevent people from using the very tools that help them to retain their independence well into old age.

Using the power of the internet

Now,  I can hardly remember what life was like before the internet. I have become used to having a world of knowledge at my fingertips. When I do not have access to my laptop or cell phone, I feel as though a limb has been amputated. I have just had a weekend away with no electricity at all – I absolutely loved it but now I couldn’t imagine living that way permanently.

1. Keep earning after retirement

Current technology allows me to work from home as a writer. I am able to independently support myself no matter what my age and I can continue to work for as long as I wish.  When I first mentioned that I wanted to start a blog directed at people over 50, my children questioned whether anyone would read it. According to them, targeting this age group was a mistake. They thought I should rather focus on young people because they did not believe enough older people were ‘tech savvy’. I am glad to say that they were wrong ! I have discovered that “silver surfers” abound and I have been inspired, uplifted and informed by many over 50s blogs and social networking sites. Many people who have reached retirement age are no longer ready or able to take off their working boots and are using the internet to supplement their income.

2. Shop at the click of a button

How about grocery shopping from the comfort of your home on your iPad? No more queuing or physically walking around shops for hours. You don’t even have to waste petrol driving anywhere – your groceries can be delivered right to your door. I  recently discovered a local website that selects recipes for the week and packs all the ingredients needed to make them. You simply decide which meals you want to make and a package of fresh ingredients arrives at your door every week.

Some of us are caring for parents with mobility issues. For them, shopping for groceries online can be a godsend.  It can keep them independent and  and save you time.  It’s definitely worth investing in an iPad. The Apple iPad Air 2 is thin, light and capable, coming with a number of features  that are useful for older people – it has a wide screen size of 9.7″ and its retina display has great resolution and clarity making it easy on older eyes. For such a small package, the speakers also produce an oversized sound.

ipad for seniors bookIf you want to buy an iPad for a parent, seriously consider purchasing My iPad for Seniors (4th Edition) by Michael MIller. The book is a comprehensive guide to using all of Apple’s iPad models.  The information presented in this book is targeted at users aged 50 and up and the instructions are simplified with older users in mind.  In addition, much content specific for people 50+ is included.

3. Read reviews and compare prices

Another plus is to be able to read online reviews and compare prices before making a purchase. This is a great help for those who are retired and living on a budget as special deals are often available.  Perhaps you want to plan a holiday. You can compare quotes for various venues and find ones that offer special rates at certain times.  You are even able to compare travel insurance at the click of a button.  It is also helpful to read reviews before buying a particular product. For example, you can read up on the best travel suitcases for seniors before deciding to purchase a certain make.

4. Stay connected

Using email and social networking platforms allows you to stay in touch with those who are closest to you, despite physical distance and busy lives. In the past it was difficult to stay current with children and grandchildren. The gap tended to become wider and wider but this does not have to happen any more. Staying connected can help to keep isolation and depression at bay.

  • Email and text messaging are making communication more immediate.
  • Social networks like Facebook and YouTube make it easy to see current photographs and videos of family and keep up to date with birthdays and special occasions.
  • Technologies like Skype are invaluable in helping to keep communication with loved ones in far flung places at little cost.  I can keep in touch with my brother and sister in England and another sister in France for a fraction of the cost of a phone call. The added benefit of webcam video capability means that I can see them too – when we finally see one another in the flesh again, it won’t be such a shock.The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 is a best seller on Amazon with over 6,500 reviews. This flexible HD webcam gives a sharp, clear image, can be adjusted to aim anywhere and has a wide field of vision in a way built-in webcams can’t match.  

5. Stimulate your brain

It is easy to keep learning remotely and the internet provides many ways to keep your mind sharp. Research has proved that playing brain development games can help to keep you functioning effectively in your daily life for longer. You might find it surprising to know that many people between the ages of 50 and 65 are learning online and often do better than their more youthful counterparts.

Watching video tutorials related to your interests is another great way to learn – find out more about how to paint, garden, arrange flowers, cook, crochet and write. You never have to be bored ever again.

If you are no longer able to travel due to financial or health reasons, armchair travel is an option. You can explore the whole world by watching videos online. It’s not quite the same as the real thing but it certainly beats the boredom of sitting and staring at four walls.

“The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you are learning, you’re not old.” – R.S Yalow

Last word

It’s a myth that older people cannot overcome their fear of technology and benefit from being online. Perhaps it is more of a challenge for them to begin with than for younger people who grew up with the technology. However, many online websites and communities today are devoted specifically to those of us who are growing older. We can learn, have fun, challenge our brains, find new ways to pursue our hobbies and meet new people. Many “silver surfers” are finding that being online is helping to change the way they look at the second half of their lives.

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