Zooming toward the crematorium

At the end of last month, a Sky News report gave a stark insight into a profound sense of isolation our elders have been hit by during lockdown. A study showed that almost nine out of ten older people say their ‘social contact has reduced significantly during the pandemic’.  Another lady told the channel that, still being forced to stay at home constantly by the government, Johnson’s latest address to the nation was “like a guillotine coming down”.


Walking through my local station in Potters Bar on Saturday afternoon, a fragile elderly lady with a walking aid called me over to ask whether I could help her buy a return train ticket to nearby Welwyn Garden City via the machine. Of course, no problem at all I said. She kept apologising, explaining her poor eye sight and confusion with machines, leaving me a ten pound note as I searched the station and ticket on the touch screen dash board. 


I sympathised, saying I sometimes struggle finding different fares on the machine, and get frustrated with no staff around at the office to help. even in the middle of the day like this.  Thanking me profusely, I left  her the ticket and her change, smiling and wishing her a good day. As I walked away I wondered, had I not stopped to help in a deserted station, her train soon to depart, how she might have coped? The sad reality, I concluded, was that she wouldn’t. Helpless, this would have been the guillotine coming down. 


Essential everyday services have made elders feel ostracised from society, tasks such as online food shopping and personal banking becoming a real challenge. Their generation don’t feel they are catered for, treated with a cold indifference by supermarkets and banks in the process. Taking to social media, one lady posted on Facebook: “My 95 year old mother, just out of hospital, cannot access a delivery slot. Surely in this day in age you should be able to identify your elderly customers”.

Jennifer, 70, from Dawlish in South London told Sky News: “We live in a society that, if it breaks down, the first people to suffer will be elderly people”. The same report found that ‘Although plenty of people are tech-savvy, Office for National Statistics figures show 2.5 million over -75’s had never used the internet in 2019’. Recently, modern video apps have fallen out of favour, both the young and old at first zealously embracing Zoom, before the novelty started to wear off. 


As Tom Whipple, Science Editor of The Times wrote on Monday: ‘Technology has been our saviour during lockdown, a way that grandparents can still see grandchildren and colleagues can still hold morning meetings. Yet in the back to back teleconferencing followed by back to back tele-socialising we have found that we are missing more than just touch’. As a result, media companies have termed the experience ‘Zoom fatigue’. 


The initial trendiness of Zoom has turned to tedium as we yearn for real human interaction. Researching the psychology of teleconferencing at Stanford University, Jeremy Bilenson said: “ What we are seeing is the challenges of synchrony, and also the exhaustion that comes from eye contact’. Tired of technology, we must ask: are we truly enabled? If we were honest with ourselves, we would probably discover otherwise. 

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3 Comments on Zooming toward the crematorium

  1. I take issue with the article.
    “A study showed that almost nine out of ten older people say their ‘social contact has reduced significantly during the pandemic’.”
    Surely this reduced social contact applies to people of all ages?
    I’m 71 and not at all doddery. I made and maintain all the computers in this house. My wife won’t allow me to go out because I’m a protected species, but I remain mentally active without problem. Currently I’m trying to find an outlet for my songs. Thank goodness for the internet.
    These old people, mentioned in the article, who find it difficult to cope in this modern world were like it when they were 30.

  2. An excellent article, the substitution of internet life for the real thing is having, and will continue to have a profound affect upon people in general, and the elderly are a particular case.
    Large organisations use the elderly (and the rest of us) to perform their administrative and clerical work, now that they have sacked all the clerks. We should really invoice them for our time, when they have forced us to spend an hour filling in forms ‘on-line’ or attempting to communicate with automated systems on the telephone.
    When a threatening letter, written by a computer, is sent to someone in their eighties or nineties, for ‘non-payment of a bill’ it isn’t clear that these wretched things are sent automatically whether you have sent your cheque to them or not. The TV Licensing Authority is particularly bad for this, as Charles Moore has pointed out in several articles.
    It is not just the elderly, the young already deprived of variety views from their university lecturers, will be taught over the internet due to the virus.
    An enthusiastic spokeswoman for the universities spoke on the radio this morning about the exciting opportunity this presented. Anyone who has been taught by a good tutor, or attended lectures by an enthusiastic Professor as an under-graduate will know how important that real human connection is, it does not compare well in content or method with the ‘interactive learning’ which corporate HR departments are so keen on forcing upon employees.
    Tutored by Richard Feynman, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkein, or intellectually crushed by Facebook, Microsoft and Google?

  3. Coincidence or not, the very demographic who remember national genuine emergency like war itself not this WuFlu hysteria, are the folks being made to suffer by a society that has seemingly decided they are now unproductive useless eaters.

    Coincidence or not, the folks whose votes secured our national independence are now being made to pay a terrible price in their twilight years.

    Credit to the author for setting a sterling example of how each of the the rest of us can show we care through individual acts of kindness.