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Guest blog: Senior Netizens

Published on 26 September 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Deirdre Williams writes:

My last post was about changing perceptions about space, location, ‘being there’. Thinking about that brings me to the changing perception about personal identity on the Internet. My friend Daniel shared with me the idea that online everyone is an ‘angel’ – without gender, age, nationality, race… and this was one of the things I found most attractive about the Internet from the beginning. I could state an opinion and others would ‘listen’ to what I said without looking at me first and jumping to conclusions. This is something that I still value very highly.

However there is another perception that needs to be given consideration. In one aspect of my identity I belong to a group on the Internet that is almost forgotten – extremely unfair when one remembers that it is people belonging to this group who started the whole thing off. I’m talking about my age. Vint Cerf is four years older than I am, Tim Berners-Lee eight years younger.

I am 65, a grandmother and retired. This has a tendency to surprise people, because the Internet is seen as being particularly a space for youth. I prefer to see it as a space for everyone. Earlier this year I suggested to the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) that the Internet Governance Forum should be active in its outreach to older people as it is active in outreach to youth. The world is aware that in many of the more developed countries the ratio of older people to the general population is rising rapidly, but somehow the availability of information and communication technology  (ICT), and its potential to solve some of the problems of an aging population, never seems to find a place in that discussion.

Which is where we get back to the paradigm shift. Instead of thinking in terms of the groups of people who may be affected by ICTs, why not instead think in terms of what ICTs can do and then apply these functions to anyone who might benefit? ICTs can create a sense of inclusion for the marginalised, can stimulate interest, learning, creativity. Sometimes, changes are simple but enabling. At a practical level ICTs can solve problems of limited mobility – the shop can come to you, rather than your having to go to the shop. In e-books, unlike traditional ones, we can enlarge the font and read it more easily. We can listen to an increasing number of audio-books, delivered online.

It used to be that when one got to 60 or so one was expected to move gracefully into the background, taking along with one the learning of a lifetime. Perhaps that is exactly why history so often repeats itself? I would propose that in the ‘brave new world’ of the Internet we have an unprecedented opportunity for inclusion for all of the ‘angels’. And I would draw your attention to the words of an elderly Greek king as imagined by a Victorian English poet which have been a favourite with teenagers since they were written:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.


Guest blog: Senior NetizensDeirdre Williams has lived in Saint Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean for most of her adult life. Since the early 1990s she has been exploring the possibilities offered by the Internet to solve some of the problems faced by small island states. This has led more recently to an interest in Internet governance, particularly where this has an impact on the ordinary end-user.

Get in touch with Deirdre through Diplo’s IG community.

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