Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You're never too old to blog

Elderly folk generally stay away from the computer, saying they can't get a hang of it and that it is too late to try. And lack of awareness of potentials of the web, even among younger middle-class parents, accounts for a low PC density. In Mysore, they say, there are no more than 5,000 broadband connections. People who ought to know better associate a computer and the Internet with video games and porn.

Most people over 65 have faith in the printed word. They don't care for what appears on the web, according a survey done by Hariharan Balakrishnan. In The Hindu write-up he says respondents to the survey included professors, padma bhushans and even Jnanpith awardees. It is not that they don't have computer at home. Nor do they lack computer-savvy children and grand-children. Balakrishnan says 95 percent of those who responded said they were 'computer-illiterate'. Apparently, they chose not to do anything about it. How many of the uninformed elders have taken initiative to seek guidance from their youngsters, asks Balakrishnan, adding that not many computer-savvy youngsters have been enthusiastic enough to educate their parents.

Wider computer usage, notably by senior citizens who have perceptible presence among NGOs, could change the way we address public issues. Those in Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) believe in morchas, and in old-fashioned petitions , signed and secured through written official acknowledgment by the departmental dispatch clerk; and they then complain that officials rarely give them a hearing or read their petitions. Tell them about putting their case online, and skeptical elders in MGP would retort, "but who reads your web?". A fair question; and an effective way of saying 'no' to change. Maybe, the word on the web may go unread by officials; but it is there online for anyone to see, anytime.

An MGP convener Dr Bhamy V Shenoy says their NGO is 18 years old with over "700 members on paper". It takes up civic issues, and in Dr Shenoy's words, "has served Mysore over the years often silently and sometimes through the press". Didn't I say they have faith in the printed word? Anyway, Dr Shenoy reckons MGP has failed to develop the way it should have because "of lethargy and indifference of the people". Ironically, Dr Shenoy made these observations in an online discussion forum.

A bunch of web enthusiasts in Bangalore have announced a citizens civic network site for Mysore that seeks to synergize with, not supplant, the work of MGP, other NGOs and also public spirited individuals who wish to be heard. Skeptics, of whom there are many to be found in any city, ask if we need yet another NGO. Efficacy of PrajaMysore would depend on the strength of its online members. Success of any online network calls for wider public awareness of computer usage.

Balakrishnan refers to the initiative of an 88-year old Sydey-based web enthusiast Eric Shackle to persuade senior citizens the world over to overcome their fears of computer. There is a world of information out there; life's experiences of a multitude waiting to be discovered through a computer. Eric calls it 'the magic carpet of the Internet' that anyone can hop on, without giving up the comforts of one's study room at home.

Eric has put down his thoughts in a web-book aptly titled, Life Begins at 80. As an Australian radio interviewer put it, Eric who led a busy life as journalist and PR man found it all coming to a dead stop on his retirement - "to go cold turkey after retiring can cause psychological problems; and Eric dealt with them by discovering a new world - the world of the web". Eric, now 88, was 79 when he got his first computer; 81, when he set up a website with a friend in South Africa.

Which reminds of a blog-to-blog chat(B2B) with my friend T R Kini. We are both 65 plus (I'm 69). We lost touch in the late sixties, and the web helped us re-discovered each other, after four decades, when we chose to trade nostalgia about our time together in London in the sixties. The B2B morphed into an eminently readable travelogue in which Kini recalls his hitch-hike from Delhi to London.

First published in Desicritic

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