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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

What happens when people get IT ....

This is the first in a series of case studies to highlight the difference that a working broadband connection can make to different people in our society. The series is intended to show how real people are affected and their lives changed.

Broadbandits - John

John is in his 80s and wanted to stay in his own home after his wife's death. His grown up children don't live close enough by to pop in every day, with his son living in America and his daughter a considerable distance down the road, so there was some concern about how to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't have a fall in the night, or need help and be unable to reach the phone. John had no idea how a computer worked and felt no need for one. His interests were fly fishing and gardening, not surfing the net. "Too old to learn about computers now, I don't even know how to switch one on!"

But a simple solution needed to be found so he could stay in his own home whilst he chose to. A laptop was acquired, broadband installed, and Skype was set up to log in automatically when the computer was switched on. This meant that his son and daughter could see immediately he came online, and knew he was OK, without John needing to know any more about the computer than where the on/off switch was.

However, as time passed, John's children and grandchildren would send him messages using the text facility on Skype and soon full blown text conversations were ongoing between the generations. Once he had got the hang of that, it was a short step to making free transatlantic voice calls and then using a webcam, which meant that everyone could see John was fit and well, and he could enjoy conversations with his grandchildren both in the UK and across the Atlantic.

With Skype mastered, curiosity led John to experiment with a browser, and discover the internet held all sorts of fascinating information and chances to talk to people about his interests. John's ability to use the Net improved rapidly, and soon he was downloading the latest edition of Top Gear from iplayer, sharing fly fishing techniques and arranging trips away with old friends, also senior surfers – the term he prefers to 'silver surfer'.

John is the secretary of the local fishing club. He researches places to fish, books tickets and trips online, and takes off for a few weeks at a time. He has slowly acquired the email addresses of all the club members, and now sends the minutes out by email, saving the club a lot of money. He encourages other members to get online, saying that if he can do it then anyone can.

He has purchased a gadget he found online that warns him when there are speed cameras in the area, and has mastered the art of updating it online. He has also built a database containing all of his library, and found prices for all of his books, which he updates regularly. He reads the newspapers online to save buying one every day, and he has discovered iTunes, making his own CDs of music to play in the car. His favourite song took some finding, as Apple obviously didn't know the song he wanted. Turns out it was 'By the Rivers of Babylon' but Bonyhens didn't show in a search. He mixes Glen Miller, classical, blues and others into what he wants to hear.

He tends to rely on family members when he wants to learn something new, but can't be encouraged to do things; he will instigate any challenges as and when he feels the need.

He has now moved in with his daughter so he could sell his house, and as can be seen, he leads an extremely active life, much of which is online or organised online. And which recently, when there was a fault on the BT line which cut the broadband connection off for 6 weeks, was drastically curtailed until a switch was flicked in the exchange to reconnect him.

John has been able to make choices about how and where he lives his life, and has seen a world of opportunities open up to him through broadband internet. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have been able to regularly communicate with him, for free, and be reassured that all is well.

However, as he becomes ever more active on the Net, the poverty of his broadband connection (never more than 1Mbps) is impeding further progress in the online world for John. Whilst it has changed his life in the last few years, and led to achievements that could not have been accomplished otherwise, further improvements to his broadband connection, and that of many, many others in the UK, are essential to progress further and allow John, and others like him, to participate fully in their communities and families, and enjoy their lives.

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