Customer Spotlight: Richard Stevens – Silver Surfer and IT Support Volunteer

For senior citizens, learning basic IT and internet skills enables them to do more with their time. From staying in touch with family and friends, to online shopping and banking, entertainment, hobbies and learning.

It’s little wonder we are seeing more and more apps and gadgets aimed at this fabled community known as ‘Silver Surfers’.

Look up ‘Silver Surfer’ in your (online) dictionary and you’ll see that it’s defined as “an elderly person who is a regular or enthusiastic user of the Internet”. What it could alternatively and succinctly say is:

“…See Richard Stevens.”

IDNet customer Richard is now retired, but he gives up his spare time to help the older generation get the most from their internet connections. So what are his motivations? And what wisdom can he impart?

“I got into computing via the workplace. I was an engineering designer for a large multi-national company so their IT training was top notch. There was the transition from old fashioned drawing boards to CAD machines and the general IT for everyday stuff. We were on Windows 3.1/Windows for Workgroups back then.

I’ve always had an enquiring mind and I’ve been interested in technology for many years. In fact when I first became interested there was just not the amount of technology around, so it was easy to keep on top of it as far as developments were concerned.

I suppose I would describe myself as an ‘enthusiastic amateur’. However, the rate of change has increased sharply and there are new devices and new concepts appearing frequently. It is tough enough for me to keep abreast of things but for the elderly who are only just dipping their toe into the technology pond, it must be truly overwhelming.

Age UK

When I retired I wanted to do something worthwhile, to contribute to my local community so when I saw an advert for people to help with basic computer skills at a local Age UK branch it was a no brainer for me. They organised my CRB checks and off I went doing home visits and various format training sessions.

This led onto offering my services to a local council run centre who ran ad hoc classes and further developed to my actively contributing to a monthly U3A Technology Group.

At the local centre I do one-to-one sessions, typically for 1 hour and there is no set syllabus. It isn’t a course as such, it is basically anything the ‘customer’ is having trouble with. From using email to using their tablet, and from using switching sites to get the best deals for their utilities to keeping in touch with far-flung family via Skype. The organisation is a non-profit setup, so I do these sessions for the huge sum of £4 per hour!

I find it worrying that people with absolutely no knowledge of computing often have no guidance as to what kit they actually need and what they don’t, and can frequently come out of a high street store with a new device with a far higher spec and add-ons that they really need. If I’m lucky, I can offer guidance before they take the plunge.

Sadly, older people are often resistant to change and are ‘conditioned’ to stay with familiar organisations. For example, people of a certain vintage might typically want to stick with BT for their phone + internet as a ‘tried & trusted’ organisation, much the same as they would’ve gone with the ‘Gas Board’ and ‘Electricity Board’ in days of old.

I often point out the benefits of choosing a smaller, UK based, more personalised ISP, such as IDNet.

People are often mistakenly enticed by special offers, introductory deals and free routers but it is not until they hit problems with slow speeds or unreliable connections and then have to deal with offshore call centres, that they realise ‘cost’ is not always the only consideration.

However, frustrations aside, I enjoy what I do and am pleased to be able to give something back to society. I believe there should be more local schemes available for the elderly, there is obviously a need, even if it was run perhaps on a more commercial (but still low cost) basis.”

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