Rosemary's Story


Rosemarie lives in Lincolnshire, with her husband. She has been attending a computer class at Lincs Training in Louth, since October 2015. 

When Rosemarie first came to Lincs Training, she was feeling vulnerable and frustrated. Her husband ‘had been in hospital for three weeks’, and she was suddenly aware that there were parts of her life which were facilitated by the internet, but which she couldn’t do on her own. 

This covered all sorts of things; paying bills, booking tickets, and communicating with her family. These were parts of their shared life which she had little control over.

When one’s partner is ill for the first time, one begins to think ‘what if I am the one who is on my own’, and I don’t think I had thought of that until this year. I have got to be able to do it haven’t I?

Rosemarie wanted to be more independent, and this meant that she needed to be more confident in the way that she used her computer:

I need to get that confidence, and I certainly don’t have it yet but at least I am not tied to him.

When she recognised this, she started to go to computer classes at Lincs Training - a parish community centre in Louth. The first time we interviewed Rosemarie, in November 2015, she described the limitations that she felt:

I’m alright as long as nothing went wrong, and as long as I didn’t try to do anything other than send emails to the few people that I send them to.

Chapter 1 - Independence

Rosemarie began piecing together an understanding of her computer by ‘learning to do the few things that were really important’. She felt that it was important to have her own email address, ‘to have some independence’, ‘so that’s where we started’.

Rosemarie learnt quite slowly, through exploration. As she came across things that she didn’t understand, she would write them down, and ask about them at Lincs Training. After six months, Rosemarie talked about how her ‘ability to type is incredibly improved because I do it regularly now.’ She could also ‘receive my own emails and respond to my own emails.’

Rosemarie’s experience is a vivid story of how difficult it is to piece together digital fluency. When she tried to use simple applications on her computer, she realised that there were lots of ‘tiny little ways’ in which she didn’t understand it. Six months in, it was significant to Rosemarie that she could ‘put in a full stop or a capital letter’. Knowing these things removed the friction when she was writing, which contributed to her experience of fluency,

Although she was improving, Rosemarie still felt dependent on the Online Centre for a long time. When we interviewed her after six months, she still tended to think: ‘Okay, I’m fine as long as they are here’: ‘I haven’t the confidence and maybe the interest to explore. I don’t explore. I stay extremely safe’

Chapter 2 - The learning process

Rosemarie was very aware of the learning process, as she gradually became more familiar with her computer. This was highlighted by the way in which she learnt. 

As she became more familiar with her computer, Rosemarie kept noticing gaps in what she knew: like wanting ‘to send a photograph … I knew how to send one, but I didn’t know how to attach more than one’. At moments like this, Rosemarie makes a note of what she want to know, waits until her class on Wednesday, and asks Richard to explain it to her. She often refers back to the book, until she is confident that she can do something fluently. 

This process has meant that Rosemarie has been very aware of progress, and how each new task that she learns builds on what she has learnt so far. As she goes on, this awareness is also contributing to the way that she learns, outside the classroom. 

Rosemarie talked about one example of this, when she saw her son-in-law ‘add some photographs to an email’. When he did this, Rosemarie noticed that ‘he was doing something quite different to me’. She asked him to explain what he had done, and she wrote it down. On its own, this seems small. But Rosemarie was only paying attention because she already knew a way of doing the same thing. As she says, ‘you’ve got to know something before you learn something else’.

Chapter 3 - Motivations

There isn’t such thing as a single motivation. Each step that Rosemarie has made has been brought about in a slightly different way. We know that she started to learn how to use a computer because she wanted to be more independent, but this original desire hasn’t necessarily sustained her day-to-day use of the internet. 

She has also learnt how to do things which feed her interests. Rosemarie loves tennis, and now she says: ‘I might remember that Andy Murray is playing and I’ll be able to tell you what the score is’. Over the last year, she has used the internet for information more and more:

‘I hear myself say, ‘Gosh, I have to Google that’. I said it last night and can’t remember what for. I hear myself doing it.’

Communication is really important to Rosemarie, and has informed a lot of her choices around digital technology. When she first bought a tablet, one of the first things that she learnt to do was use FaceTime. She uses this to talk to her children and their families, in America and Europe: ‘It’s strange, I enjoy it and we do it regularly and it means I see his face and I see the children’.

Since we started talking to her, Rosemarie has also started to use the internet to transact. The first time she did this, she  was alone at home, and had to book an emergency flight. Rosemarie’s husband was at work, so she was without the support that she would usually have. She remembers ‘sitting there for half an hour thinking ‘Can I do this on my own’. It’s going to cost me £150 if I get this wrong, or can I afford to wait?’ Rosemarie tried to make herself buy the ticket, but ‘got to the point of booking three times and then withdrew.’ She thought to herself, ‘this is ridiculous. Am I going to be in a position where I can’t do this sort of thing?’ So she did it, and ‘it was significant.’ 

In each case,  there is a different motivation; whether this is interest, exploration, possibility or communication. In some cases, the only thing stopping Rosemarie from doing something is an understanding of how to do it. In other cases, there is extra friction. When she bought a plane ticket for the first time, she was very worried about risk, and she needed extra impetus to make herself do it.

Chapter 4 - Reluctant adopter

A lot of what Rosemarie says about the internet is very positive, but she always believes that when she is on a computer, she is outside her comfort zone. This perception is increasingly dependent on her wider feelings about the social culture of digital technology, which she maintains even as her computer use increases. 

In our final interview, she talked about how she was using the computer most days. Her tablet has moved from the study to the kitchen table, because some of the ways that she is using it ‘are becoming normal’. But she is still equivocal about the value of the internet, she wants to have conversations and read books, but finds herself ‘googling more and more … I’m angry with myself because of that’.

Rosemarie has reluctantly adopted technology, because ‘it’s going to be difficult to survive without it’, but she ‘hates’ the way that she feels the internet intruding into areas of her life which she wants to protect. As Rosemarie uses the internet more, she becomes more aware of trying to achieve balance.

Some of this is about ‘minimising the risk’ by rejecting areas of the internet - like banking - for which she feels ‘a lack of trust’. In other ways, she is finding ways to maintain control. She bought an iPhone last year, but doesn’t like to use to use it for video calls. In turn, this becomes a time restriction on when she is using the internet:

I only want to FaceTime when we’ve agreed to FaceTime and when the time is right for me and for them. It’s all to do with this refusal I have of allowing it to overtake my life.

Chapter 5 - Things are becoming normal

Rosemarie’s increased confidence as an independent user of technology has enabled her to interact differently with people around her. When they make transactions online, they now transact together for mutual support:

We very much sit together when we’re doing that now, because age comes into these things, you know, you’re not as sharp in your seventies. Quite often if one’s actually on the keyboard the other one will say no, you’ve put so and so. But that’s alright isn’t it.

In this way, Rosemaries understanding of digital technology has enabled her to become a more active partner in the way that they make decisions as a couple. 

Rosemarie has also started to help other people to use the internet. This is a significant step, because it means that she has become confident enough in her own skills to pass them on. She described how her ‘neighbours are looking for a house, and she doesn’t use a tablet or a computer or anything’. Rosemarie invited her neighbour over, and helped her to search for houses: ‘you can tell us where you want to be and we’ll see what we can find with you. So we both sat there, and she said where she would like to be’.

A year ago, Rosemarie wouldn’t have thought that she would have the digital confidence to support someone else. Perhaps this is what enables her to introduce other people to digital. Even as ‘things are becoming normal’, Rosemarie still feels a link between everything that she now knows, and how she felt eighteen months ago: ‘I wouldn’t say I’ve forgotten what it was like before I knew’.

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