When 83-year-old Peter Oakley’s wife died in 1998, he, like many who lose someone close to them, battled with loneliness over the next few years. Eventually he had the idea of trying the Internet as a way of possibly making new friends. Being somewhat unfamiliar with ‘all this new-fangled technology,’ he ended up in chatrooms frequented by hordes of hormone-addled teenagers. Not wanting to have to pretend being ‘Dwayne from south London’ in an effort to appear down with the kids, Peter soon logged out and wondered if it was the right thing for him after all.
In an interview with the UK Telegraph, Peter, from central England, explained how someone then told him about YouTube. The video sharing site has since changed his life. No, he doesn’t spend endless hours in front of his computer screen watching videos of giraffes riding bicycles; instead, he makes his own videos. Since signing up in 2006 with the tongue-in-cheek username Geriatric1927 (aka The Internet Grandad), his videos, in which he talks about events in his long life, have received more than eight million views.
Peter is now one of the converted, and is a big supporter of the UK’s Spring Online campaign, a week-long event where organizations up and down the country open their doors to senior citizens, encouraging them to give the Internet a try. This year’s campaign has been running all week and finishes today with Silver Surfers’ Day.
“The Internet is a wonderful tool for information, education and communication,” Peter told the Telegraph. “I work with a friend in America who gives instructional lessons to his friends in a community centre, and has organised high-school students to come and give lessons one to one, and he reports the wonderful friendships that have developed between the old and the young.”
Peter has a number of ideas about what’s stopping many elderly people from going online – fear and embarrassment, for example. “My peers feel they’re left behind, that they can’t possibly understand iPads and iPhones, and would feel too embarrassed about their inadequacies to take the plunge,” Peter says. “I believe it’s within families that we can make breakthroughs – encouraging older people’s relatives to help.”
It seems that Peter, the UK’s most famous silver surfer, can’t get enough of the Internet and YouTube: “You have the access to many, many friends online,” he says. “You watch and enjoy. I’ve made friends. And YouTube’s where everybody goes to find anything out. There’s even a video on how to breed earthworms.” Breeding earthworms? Perhaps Peter is watching those videos of giraffes on bikes after all.