Standing alongside the bar waiting to order your meal has been part of the pub/restaurant tradition for generations.  Friendships have formed as people waited to be served.

Now new technology is making this redundant:  you place your order, seated, from your table using an app on your Smart phone. It’s quicker, you don’t have to shout over the noise and importantly in this Covid era, it minimises contact with staff.

But Age UK says it discriminates against older people who don’t have Smartphones and widens the digital divide, pointing out that seven in ten of the over-70s don’t use them.  (Which means that three in ten do.)

People like widower David Walters, 78, who complained to the Telegraph that the policy was ‘ageist’ after he was denied service in a pub in Northumberland.  (He was also asked to enter his details into the NHS Track and Trace app.)

He said it was terrible, because ‘older people like me don’t have this computer knowledge because we weren’t brought up with computers.”

Surely, it’s not about being brought up with computer technology but taking the trouble to learn it.  Half of 65 to 74-year-olds use computer technology, and 30% of the over-75s.  If they can use it, why can’t the others?

During lock-down, numbers attending online church services  soared, and many came to faith because it was easier for them to participate. Also, a church pastoral leader told me, ‘I’ve been surprised at the number of people who have met on zoom with a friend for morning/evening prayer daily, then these groups got wider and wider, producing something which was a real boon for people at home who could top and tail their day with shared prayer.’

The use of Smart phone apps in pubs and restaurants was growing long before lockdown.  It reduces staff time, cuts costs and increases turnover.  It’s a boon in a hospitality sector clawing its way up the cliff after the pandemic.  (Eight months of closure cost more than 600,000 jobs, lost sales of £86 bn and 12,000 business failures.)

The hidden ‘ageist’ view in this story is that older people are not capable of learning new things, including the technology, and that’s a narrative we need to change.  The sad thing is that many older people have absorbed it themselves.  But not those like the 99-year-old in a care home in Dinas Powys who sends out prayer requests and arranges meetings by zoom.  And the 100 year old living in sheltered housing who sends texts from her phone.

Life is easier and fuller with computer technology and Smartphones.  I can walk with my son around his new home in Arizona and speak face-to-face with friends at a barbeque in California.  I use a Bible app that is especially useful for finding Scripture references quickly at church, and there is even an app I can use to take notes.  Before a friend goes shopping, she finds items on discount at  local stores.

So, instead of thinking, ‘poor old dears’, why not encourage the older people in your family and in your church to engage with the technology?  Enthuse them with the benefits and assure them that if 30% of over 75s can learn it, so can they!

A very socially engaged church I visited in Hull had done just that.  They had a team of young people who were happy to help, and their enthusiasm sparked the older members’.

Isn’t this a great way of drawing the generations together and bringing real benefits into their lives as we start going back to church in person?


Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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