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         Volume 10 |Issue 05 | February 04, 2011 |


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In the age of the Internet, how are senior citizens faring?


“The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life. And the body is born young and grows old. That is life's tragedy.”
– Oscar Wilde

Rozy Ahmed, aged 77, is the mother of five sons and the grandmother of eight grandchildren. She follows the same routine every day: breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 2 pm, evening tea at 6 pm, dinner at 9 pm and bed at 11 pm. Having previously suffered two strokes, her mobility is severely restricted and she spends the rest of the time in bed, resting and reading. During the course of our conversation she admitted that she looked forward to those evenings when there was load-shedding for an hour or more.

“That's the time I can actually talk to my grandchildren; when there is no electricity, there is no scope for them to be sitting at their computer, playing games or using the Internet. My son will still be using his laptop but I'm grateful that my grandchildren are still too young to be in possession of such extravagances.” She further admits that she has always been curious about how people could spend hours and hours crouched in front of a computer, and forget about what real life is all about. When asked whether she might consider learning how to surf the Internet so she could also enjoy the benefits that everyone in her family seem to enjoy, she passionately rejects the suggestion. “I keep hearing about what my grandson's friends are doing 24-7 in their own homes, minute by minute updates,” she says. “However it makes me sad that they prefer the company of an impersonal computer screen to their own grandmother”.

With its increasing popularity, the Internet is touching and changing the lives of senior citizens. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

What Rozy Ahmed has touched on, is just the surface of how massively technology features in our day-to-day life these days. Impersonal computer screen messages and instant conversations hold more appeal than actual real life interaction. Computer simulated games have replaced the good old-fashioned approach of running out in the afternoons for a quick game of football. Even the good old pastime of curling up with a decent book to read is on its way to extinction, as e-books have started to take more precedence over actual printed books due to being more cost effective and readily available.

So where does this leave our Senior citizens,

when it comes to this technologically saddled culture? Is it only appreciated by the younger generation and resented by our older generation? Farhana Ferdous disagrees and shares her alternative views. “The internet is an ingenious invention. You can be anywhere, see anything, find anything and all that at the touch of a button,” she says. Ferdous, who is seventy-year-old, is a breast cancer survivor, currently living with her son and his family. When asked about whether the internet may actually be responsible for creating drifts between people within her family, she gives an enigmatic smile. “It's all about balance in our family,” she says. “Excess of anything can be bad for people, irrespective of what it is. The trick is to learn where to draw the line”.

She then goes on to say how helpful the Internet was for her when she first discovered she had breast cancer. Joining online groups of breast cancer survivors, sharing day to day experiences and feelings, researching information and receiving feedback from people who were in the same position like her on the Internet helped her to keep her spirits up. “It was a dark time for me,” she confides. “I know a lot of people that I interacted with online were strangers, but it was helpful in its own way. These were people who were going through the same thing as me. We gave each other support, it is a good feeling knowing that you're not alone.” When asked about whether she still uses the Internet, she mentions how helpful it has been to keep in touch with her friends and acquaintances. “I was a very social person when I was young; I had lots of friends. With email, Facebook, Skype, now the possibilities of keeping in touch are endless.”

While there are no specific statistics, a survey conducted in 2004 and another one conducted in 2009 by the Nielsen Company in the US shows that while the number of youngsters and middle-aged Internet users remains the same, there has been a staggering increase in the number of senior internet users, that is a massive jump from 11.3 million in 2004 to 17.5 million in 2009 (a 55 per cent rise). The growth of female users has surpassed the growth of male users by 6 percent. More surprising than that were the web destinations of these users. While many senior citizens use the Internet for mundane day-to-day task such as researching information, paying bills or managing bank accounts online, it seems like these are not the only choices they have limited themselves to. While Google Search remains an obvious favourite, it may come as a bit of a shock that Youtube and other socially interactive websites have also seemed to become quite an indulgent preference. While senior citizens in Bangladesh usually do not fancy playing online games on Facebook and browsing videos on Youtube, it seems still undeniable that popularity of the Internet is on the rise within this age group.

For some senior citizens, the Internet also gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a side career too. Sixty-eight-year-old Subroto Saha retired army officer, shares his views about how he uses the internet to engage in his current leisure activity at the stock market. “It's extremely helpful,” he confides, “and it helps to pass the time with such effectiveness, it never ceases to amaze me how I can happily spend hours in front of the computer and not even notice it!” Saha elaborates about how he felt that retirement, while relaxing, previously made him extremely bored. “It seemed like everyone had their own lives while I just sat at home. Now I feel like I have something worthwhile to do with my time too. I treat it as a hobby, but it also gives me a sense of self-importance”. After a few moments of silence when he speaks again, there is a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile on his face. “As Aristotle once said: there is happiness in activity.”

It is understandable that even the Internet, alongside many other things, has its pros and cons. The overall effect of this cyber technological age over Bangladeshi senior citizens still remains to be seen. To get our senior citizens more technologically involved, a little help from members of the family will go a long way. Maybe the day isn't very far away when all classes of citizens – senior, junior and middle-aged– can revel in the marvels and benefits of the Internet.



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