Making the most of the internet
If you're reading this web page, you're already online. The information on this page is intended for people who are looking to boost their confidence online and get more out of using the internet – whether that's learning how to Skype, use social media, or watch TV online. You could also use the information on this page to help someone get online who isn't currently.
- How do I access the internet?
- How do I set up an email account?
- How do I search for information online?
- How do I make phone calls using the internet?
- What is social media or social networking?
- How do I watch TV or videos on the internet?
- Where can I listen to the radio on the internet?
- Where can I find a computer training course?
- Is there any equipment that can help me use a computer?
- What should I do next?
How do I access the internet?
You don’t need the latest or most expensive technology to access the internet.
- a digital device
- a modem or router
- an internet service provider (ISP).
Digital devices you can use to get online include:
- desktop PCs (personal computers) and laptop computers
- tablet PCs (such as an iPad or Kindle Fire)
- smartphones (such as an Android mobile phone or an iPhone)
- a smart TV (‘smart’ just means the device is connected to the internet)
If you don’t own any of these, or you don’t have an internet connection at home, you’ll find PCs with internet access in many local libraries.
A modem or router
A modem is a device that uses your telephone line to give you access to the internet. You can also get a router, which allows different devices in your home to share the same internet connection (i.e. Wi-Fi network). Your internet provider usually gives you a modem or a router when you sign up as part of its service.
Internet service provider (ISP)
Internet access is set up through your telephone line or a mobile device by an internet service provider. Popular internet providers include BT, Virgin Media, Sky, PlusNet and TalkTalk. If you already have a telephone provider, they should be able to upgrade your package to include internet access.
It can be worth taking the time to shop around because the cost of the service can vary.
Different service packages will also have a different data limit. Your data limit is the amount you can download each month, and is measured in gigabytes (GB) per month. If you go over your data limit, you could be charged extra or it may affect your internet access.
Once you’ve chosen an ISP, that company can usually arrange for a computer technician to set up your computer and internet connection.
Get the best deal
To find the best available internet options in your area, check the uSwitch price comparison website or call uSwitch on 0800 6888 557
How do I set up an email account?
One of the first things you should do online is set up an email account. You can use email to send free messages to your friends and family (no matter where they are in the world). It’s also the main way that organisations and companies communicate, so you’ll need an email account to access most online services and to sign up to email newsletters about your interests.
Setting up an email account is straightforward:
- You usually complete an online form and create a password.
- When you register with your internet service provider (such as BT or Sky) they will often provide you with an email account.
- You can also set up an email account that’s separate from your ISP, using one of the many popular online services, such as Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo.
How do I search for information online?
One of the main uses of the internet is a way to find out information. There are millions of websites providing free information, and a search engine is a way to find the website you’re looking for.
Search engines (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo Search) allow you to type questions or key words and phrases into a search box, and click search. You might type in the name of a specific organisation to find their corporate website, or you could simply type in a topic or question you want to find information on.
Once you’ve submitted your search request into the search engine, it will come back with a list of websites that it thinks are related to your search. It sorts the results by relevance (based on the words you entered into the search box) with the most appropriate websites listed at the top of the page.
Here are some general tips for searching online:
- type 2 or more words to make your searches more specific, e.g. type “how to wire a plug”
- use inverted commas (“ “) when searching for a phrase to improve search results, e.g. “Cheap flights”. By using inverted commas, you’ll tell the search engine to use that exact phrase
- be aware of sponsored links at the top of the search results page: companies and organisations can pay to have their adverts shown in prominent places, but these links won’t necessarily be relevant for you. The sponsored links are usually clearly labelled.
- use trusted sources when searching for important facts, e.g. when you’re looking up health information, always trust an NHS website over an unknown site.
Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopaedia that’s very useful for finding information. You’ll find information on just about any subject. However, you should be aware that anyone can edit a Wikipedia page and the information hasn’t been formally reviewed, so you could come across incorrect or misleading information.
How do I make phone calls using the internet?
You can make free calls on the internet, even for international calls. Skype is the most popular free application for making calls online, and it’s available on PCs, tablets and smartphones.
The service is free if the person you’re speaking to is also calling over the internet, but you can also use Skype to call mobiles and landlines worldwide at low rates.
Google Hangouts is another well-known service for making calls online.
If you’re using a desktop PC, you’ll need a microphone so that the person you’re speaking to can hear you. You can also use a webcam if you want to talk face to face. Most modern computers come with built in microphones and webcams.
What is social media or social networking?
Social networking websites - more often called social media - provide a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, and even meet people with similar interests or hobbies.
Facebook is the most popular social networking website. It allows you to create a personal profile where you can share your thoughts, pictures, videos and interests on your ‘timeline’ with your friends and family.
You’ll also be able to see what they’re posting, so it’s a great way to keep in touch. You can also follow organisations and public figures to see their posts.
Facebook offers different privacy settings so you can choose to share your posts only with people you are connected to as ‘Facebook Friends’, or you can choose to be more open and let anyone on Facebook see them.
Twitter is another popular social networking site that enables you to create a personal online profile and post short public messages – known as ‘tweets’ - which are seen by anyone who chooses to follow you; similarly, you will see the tweets on anyone else on Twitter you choose to follow.
Twitter sets a 140 character limit for all tweets (including letters, numbers and spaces), so you need to keep your tweets snappy and to the point.
While Twitter encourages public conversations, it’s possible to hide your profile from anyone you don’t follow, so you can use it just for chatting with friends and family.
Age UK has its own social media profiles. You might be interested in liking our page on Facebook or following us on Twitter to receive updates and join our conversations.
How the internet changed my life
John Davies talks about his initial aversion to getting online and how the internet has improved his life.
How do I watch TV or videos on the internet?
BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all have websites where you can go to watch programmes you’ve missed or want to watch again. These are free services, but most of the programmes will only be available for a limited time. There are many more internet TV services available, including paid subscription services. These services are known as TV or video on demand.
You need a valid TV licence to use iPlayer – whether that’s watching live TV or downloading a programme to watch on a device (such as a TV, computer, tablet or mobile phone). However, the good news for people in later life is that you may qualify for concessions on the price of your licence, and you can get a free TV licence if you’re 75 or over.
You can use these TV on demand services from your computer, but many have apps that let you view their programmes from a tablet PC or mobile phone. You can even find these services on many Smart TVs (TVs which are connected to the internet).
YouTube is the most popular video-sharing site on the internet. It contains millions of videos, uploaded by individuals and organisations. You can use it to watch documentaries, music videos, funny videos and much more.
You may need to download a media player on to your computer to watch videos online, if your computer doesn’t already come with an up-to-date media player. Many videos you to have an Adobe Flash Player, which you can download for free, but the website you’re on will normally provide the necessary instructions if you need additional software to view a video.
Where can I listen to the radio on the internet?
You can listen to most radio shows online. Most stations will have an option to listen live on their website or have an app that lets you listen from your mobile phone or tablet PC.
Alternatively, you can use the free app TuneIn to listen to most radio stations.
Did you also know that you can listen online to The Wireless, Age UK’s own radio station?
Where can I find a computer training course?
There are lots of computer courses and taster sessions available for older people, providing straightforward training using jargon-free terms that aim to get you quickly enjoying the advantages of the internet.
Find a course in your area
You can always go to your local library and ask about courses. Alternatively...
Is there any equipment that can help me use a computer?
You may find that the standard mouse or keyboard you got with your PC doesn’t quite give you the control you want, especially if you have limited dexterity. If you have arthritic fingers, you may find a trackball mouse which is ergonomically designed easier to use.
You can choose from a wide range of different shapes and sizes from a provider like AbilityNet. Contact AbilityNet’s advice and information team on freephone 0800 269 545 to find out more about specialist equipment and adaptations (much of it is free or low cost) if you have a disability that makes using a computer difficult.
Microsoft has built various features into Windows to make it easier for people of all abilities to use it. Visit Microsoft Accessibility to find out more about their accessibility options.
What should I do next?
Read about Age UK's computer training courses
Find out what your local Age UK has to offer
Please help us be there for older people in need
By donating today, you could help us answer more calls to our advice line, campaign harder for older people’s rights and fair treatment and provide regular friendship calls to people who are desperately lonely.