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Older people need the internet too

By Susan Ryan - posted Monday, 25 November 2013

It would be safe to say that in less than twenty years the way we communicate has been transformed by the internet. Yet it is easy to forget that not everyone has been included in this revolution.

Today, our world is rapidly shifting to cyberspace. Most services are available online. Retailing is increasingly moving online. News is transitioning from newspapers to the internet. And entertainment - such as video rentals, broadcast TV and even sport betting - will be delivered to us through the worldwide web.

All this is very exciting, bringing a new digital information age of convenience, self-service and lightning fast delivery. It is fantastic – primarily for those of us who have grown up with this technology or have worked and actively engaged with it since its early days, particularly through work.


But what of those of us who have not had that opportunity? What of those among us who have not had any real imperative to start to move our lives online?

The biggest group of people in this situation are older people – those in our community particularly those over 65.

To chart how this has happened, think about that fact that it was only 1993 when public servants working in Commonwealth departments were given desktop computers and expected to learn to use them. Those computers weren't connected to the internet, but by 1995, dial-up connections had become widespread in Australian homes.

A person who retired aged 55 in 1995 would today be 68.

So, clearly a great many of today's over 65s were not required to work with computers, would not have needed to invest in one at home and, as a consequence, internet access has not become a part of their lives.

These people now need assistance to become confident and competent internet users. They need assistance to be brought into the same world as us and to share the same digital opportunities we have.


While internet usage is increasing for older people, less than half of over 65s are online, with only 37% going online in 2010-11 – that is a total of 1,790,000 Australians over 65 who are not online. In comparison 79% of Australians aged 15 years and over access the internet.

Yet the greatest growth in internet usage in any age group is in the 55–64 year age group, up from 63% in 2008–09 to 71% in 2010–11.

It is time to make the internet 'age friendly'.

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About the Author

The Hon Susan Ryan AO is Age Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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