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The great leap forward

Updated: May 20, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for society and “older people” in particular to use technology to engage with others. This issue is discussed by Robynne Allison Fletcher in her regular column on technology.

It’s difficult to understand why coronavirus has got everyone in such as stew. It’s not necessary to go back as far as plague or black death to look for (governmental) interference into people’s lives. We should not forget the very real fear of nuclear disaster, as featured in the Raymond Briggs’ story. Advice was given to hide under the stairs which would provide the best antidote to apocalyptic events. Even the HIV/Aids epidemic called for massive change in private life, with the use of condoms and “protected” sexual behaviour. It was only after Princess Diana visited patients in hospital that fear of contracting the illness from social contact began to dissipate.

Are people right to be cautious? Certainly, for example, in the case of leprosy, where a bell was rung to notify locals that (possibly) contagious people were passing by, as in Totnes and Devon and elsewhere. This latest scare of COVID-19 seems to have crept up unnoticed while attention was more firmly fixed on climate change and the mysterious disappearance of bees and other pollinators. No one wants to take the chance of dismissing this latest pandemic as just another scare story, particularly while the newly elected prime minister of the UK is lying in a hospital, after having spent three nights in an intensive care unit. No government would want to be accused of being guilty of not taking these circumstances seriously.

But without a proper understanding of the virus and how it operates, what hope is there the appropriate counteraction can be taken? This time, though, it seems that, as with HIV/Aids, there is a particular section of the population targeted. In that case, it was rightly or wrongly gay men. This time it is the over 70-year-olds who feel under threat.

Instead of appreciating that advice to be beware of contact with those of underlying conditions, such as diabetes and/or cancer, heart and lung conditions is to protect themselves from direct effects from the virus. It might be thought to be over zealous but it is still, hopefully, well intentioned. This has included a suggestion that those past the first and maybe the second, or even third flush of youth, might also benefit from such protective measures. Unfortunately, a figure of 70-year-olds and over has been declared.

Of course, as with any bracketing of people, many will fall outside the category. In other words, some 50-year-olds may be frail, some 80-year-olds (and even some in their 90s) may consider themselves fit and well. At this point, society is asking that people consider not only their own capabilities but also whether they would be endangering others around them.

These questions need addressing. It may be long overdue that the treatment of pensioners is properly discussed and understood. Now that the pensionable age is flexible in many countries, it is a question of individual choice, measured against what societies can and will sustain. We should take advantage of this.

The young are used to working from home, to engaging via social media. Sadly, a whole generation of (approximately) 75-95-year-olds missed out on the digital revolution. It is not too late to rectify this. Whether at home, or in long-term residential accommodation, those who missed out the first-time around could now be offered and instructed in how to enjoy the vast benefits of social media.

Twenty years ago, the introduction of computer technology was approached via programming, on machines that often lost whole hours and projects full of work, to devastating effect. Nowadays, it is simply a question of using- for example- a simple keyboard or touch screen. Hours of pleasure can be had, sending and receiving emails, pictures and videos from friends and family all over the world in addition to searching the online encyclopedia which is Wikipedia.

We do not need to frighten people, by insisting they complete complicated legal procedures unless they feel confident and able to. Society must decide whether this could be enabled via charitable efforts and or voluntary efforts. It is a great way to engage young and old. Many youngsters these days have a very close relationship with grandparents, who may have had much more contact with them at an early age than with their parents, who are often out at work and busy earning.

The current crisis could well finally present an opportunity for a great leap forward in this area, once social isolation is finally over.

Photo: Carole Railton (copyright) "Taking a great leap forward".

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