The Queen says the world is changing too fast. But wasn't it ever thus?

Anyone who has had to ask a five-year-old how to program the video, or stared in horror at a computer screen, will empathise. But was the Queen right when she said society was moving too fast for "older people"? Jojo Moyes hears that her grandmother was probably saying the same thing.

The Queen's admission yesterday that even she felt bewildered by the rapid rate of technological change brought a clamour of agreement from those still stuck on the hard shoulder of the information superhighway.

In a speech to Pakistan's Parliament, the Queen, 71, said: "I sometimes sense that the world is changing almost too fast for its inhabitants, at least for us older ones."

The veteran writer and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy, 77, was among those who agreed. "What she has said is absolutely right. For old dogs like us, new tricks are simply unacceptable," he said. "The world is changing so fast we just can't keep pace with it ... I can't even cope with a word processor, never mind the Internet. Everything is getting more and more complicated."

According to the Age Concern spokesman Margaret McLellan, many elderly people felt the same way. "Feeling too old to catch up with the modern world can begin when people are as early as 40 or 50, and it is a feeling which gets worse as people get older," she said "But there should be a choice - some people see new developments as a challenge and try very hard to bridge the age gap."

According to Dr Jon Turney, lecturer in science communication at University College London, much of the disquiet felt by the elderly today has to do with the biotechnological changes that have sped through since the 1980s. "I suspect the feeling is keener and more affecting now than it has been in the past. If you went back 100 years there was disquiet about changing belief systems, fallout from the discovery of deep time and Darwinian theory. But science and technology were seen as the arbiters of progress. Everyone was optimistic," Dr Turney said.

"Now the changes come so thick and fast that people are as much bewildered as anything. There is a sense that there is more science, more technology rushing along doing threatening things. Developments in bio-sciences are seen as as much of a threat as a promise. Traditional categories get broken down ... and there is the question of what reproductive technology is doing to the family. People find this very disquieting."

But according to William Brock, Professor of the History of Science at Leicester University, one could have heard the same sounds of disquiet 150 years ago - when people adapted to the advent of "high speed" railways, and subsequently electricity, and telephones and their lives changed beyond recognition.

"There were huge changes taking place to people's lives. With railways [in the 1840s] you had speed for the first time, and people were generally frightened of it," Professor Brock said. "Many talked about the new technology with some dismay.""

But not all older people are pessimistic about their position in the Brave New World. The former TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse, 87, said the elderly should not just give up. "All it takes is a bit of teamwork between the young and the old," she said.


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