Professional Comment

Why Are The ‘Silver Surfers’ Missing From The Conversation?

By Ben Mansell, Founder and COO of The Unconnected Foundation (

Staying in regular contact with friends and family, keeping physically active and mentally engaged has been highlighted in numerous research studies as vital ingredients for health and happiness at any age. Yet, physical limitations, having loved ones far away, or even environmental factors – including but not limited to the emergence of such black swan events as Covid – mean that the simple joy of socializing with others face-to-face, going for a walk or catching a film is out of reach for many.

Luckily, the proliferation of digital technologies has made connecting with others, staying engaged and entertained and even finding appropriate fitness opportunities possible for anyone with an internet connection. There are numerous apps ranging from free video calling, first made widely accessible by Skype and further popularized by Apple and WhatsApp, going all the way down to digital crosswords, puzzles and other games to help keep one’s mind active. Online resources make it easy to check the weather, connect with other members of the community and find volunteer opportunities.

Yet, this abundance of choice is not equally available to all. The discussion surrounding the latest technologies and emerging digital resources often seems to be missing the voice of the so-called ‘silver surfers’ — the elderly, who might benefit from these technologies the most. A baffling 18% of over 65s simply have no internet access at all, according to Ofcom figures.

Can residential care homes help bridge the digital divide for those, who do not have younger relatives to guide them through navigating through the world of PCs, smartphones, and apps?

Understandably, digital inclusion is not always a top priority, given the number of fires care homes have to fight on a regular basis, including catering for residents with complex needs. Yet, getting those who can truly benefit from getting connected is simpler than it seems.

Sourcing a number of shared devices and identifying an in-house expert, who can act as a sort of ‘digital guru’ to support their contemporaries with coaching on ways to take advantage of all the internet has to offer is one low-cost strategy some residential homes can employ.

Several charities, including Age UK, provide a wealth of online materials to help older people get acquainted with online tools, including ways to make electronic devices more user friendly, by simply increasing the font size or using other similarly simple hacks. Other volunteer organizations are available to come onsite to provide in-person training for care home staff, or like in the case of The Unconnected Foundation, supply some user-friendly devices like Facebook Portal to help simplify video calling.

With the right support, which comes in all forms and sizes from the non-profit sector, helping the elderly understand what the digital world has to offer is not as daunting a task as it seems. The important thing is to make the crucial first step in committing to digital inclusion as a priority.

The Unconnected Foundation was established in 2019, with the recognition that internet access has become vital to providing educational and economic opportunities, healthcare and even the basic human need for connecting with others. It has set out to provide internet access to at least 100 million people by 2025 with generous support from donors and partners. Its focus is on underrepresented and underserved communities, including in the UK.