Jan Tchamani is one of the 2013 joint Age UK Internet Champions - here she explains how the internet has changed her life.
I always love it when Age UK asks me to put on my Internet Champion hat and write something about this subject, so dear to my heart!
I became an Age UK Internet Champion back in March, and since then - more than ever - I've been championing the cause of getting the over-50s out there and into the digital wonderland where I spend so much of my time.
When I'm not surfing the net for useful stuff about gardening (my newest passion), or gifts for family and friends, I'm here at my desk writing blogs (a kind of online diary) or posting photos on Facebook. And I'm campaigning for the IT needs of the over-50s to be addressed in Birmingham.
My world would be so much smaller and less efficient without this amazing machine I'm typing on right now. Last weekend, my husband Terry and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary, and the whole delightful break was booked online: hotel, outings and candle-light dinners.
I can't begin to tell you how useful it was to know that, in spite of arthritic knees and a dodgy back, I would be able to comfortably manage everything.
How it all started
Ten years ago I was an English teacher in an inner city comprehensive school in Birmingham. I loved my job, but I suddenly found myself diagnosed with what they used to call 'manic depression' - bipolar - and I was no longer able to work.
Fortunately, I had been forced to get to grips with the internet. All teachers attend regular training sessions. And sometimes you get a little extra push. Bipolar people are creative thinkers, and I remember the day when the head teacher took me on one side and said, 'Jan - I love all your ideas, but you're going to have to email them to me from now on!'. So I had no choice, and I find that's often the way of things.
So at the age of 50 I found myself out of work, poorly, and 'stuck' at home with only the computer for company. It was then that the internet became my best friend.
Lucky me: even on days when I couldn't go out or talk to anyone, I had a way of escape. I could listen to music, watch films, play adventure games, and explore the world safely. What a blessing that was! And I could also learn about handling my complex health issues.
I joined Bipolar UK's 'online forum', and typed my questions into a little box on my screen. Back came a deluge of encouraging answers from fellow sufferers. In a forum, you don't use your real name and you can really be honest. Gradually, I got back my taste for life.
Freedom for me - but what about the others?
When you go through tough times, you meet others who are facing similar challenges. Thinking about other people’s situations inspired me to want to help.
Once I was settled on a sheltered housing scheme, I applied for Lottery funding for an IT Club, and professional tutors to help my neighbours become confident 'users'. Last year we ran an Age UK 'Spring Online' event, and this year we're going to be part of ITea and Biscuits Week.
I'm very excited: you never know who's going to walk in. Last month, 59-year-old Trevor learnt to apply for work online and now he's found the perfect job! His daughter's off to university soon, but can feel confident her dad won't be bored or lonely.
Championing 'digital inclusion'
What Age UK are doing to get us over-50s online is vitally important: trust me. Just as not having a phone 20 years ago put people at a disadvantage, not being online is having the same effect today. And society needs older people involved! We have so much wisdom to pass on to the young!
If you've never dipped a toe in the water, or you know someone who hasn't, please encourage them to come along to an ITea and Biscuits event. Half an hour will be enough to convince someone of the benefits.
You and I know that the spirit of adventure is still very strong in later life! Just because we have creaky knees doesn't mean we don't want to go on learning and exploring! So go on, give it a try. If you find you don't like it, feel free to write to me via Age UK, and I'll eat my hat - that's a promise!