Good vibrations as Beach Boys fan and grandfather David Lowen scoops ‘silver surfer’ award

2 Oct 2013

Sinead Gibney, Google Ireland; Age Action chief executive Robin Webster; and broadcaster George Hook present David Lowen with the overall 2013 Google Silver Surfer Award in Dublin. Image via Conor McCabe Photography

David Lowen, a 61-year-old grandfather and lover of music – especially on Spotify – has been deemed Ireland’s top silver surfer for 2013. Age Action Ireland and Google bestowed the Greystones, Co Wicklow, native with the Google Silver Surfer Award because he has embraced technology with a sense of fun and adventure.

The Google Silver Surfer Awards honour older people who have embraced technology.

Describing himself as a “huge fan” of the Beach Boys, Lowen regularly streams music, listens to Spotify and has a fairly impressive music collection on his computer.

Age Action chief executive, Robin Webster presented Lowen with his award and a new Google Chromebook laptop at a ceremony at Google’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin.

After retiring from his job in the banking sector, Lowen said this freed him up so could fully “embrace the digital world” and indulge his love of music.

He learned how to shop online, bank online, book holidays online and use Google Translate to talk to a family relative living in Peru in South America.  

His latest project is a digital photography course and he hopes to build a vast photo collection online.

Lowen was nominated for the award by his daughter Susan O’Keeffe.

“My dad fits the bill perfectly because he is such a technology enthusiast.

“He has been a subtle influence on his family and friends who are always asking him to show them how to do things on the internet.

“When his grandchildren visit he’s able to show them cartoons and funny video clips using his iPad and they have great fun,” O’Keeffe explained.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, said Ireland’s silver surfers have set a “fine example” by demonstrating in their own lives some of the ways we can benefit by embracing the opportunities available to us all online.

“These are inspiring stories of ordinary people, many whom left school early and are now an example to all of us on what we – like them – can achieve through the internet.”

Sinead Gibney, head of Social Action at Google, said it was just “amazing” to see the quality of entrants in this year’s awards.

“All of our winners’ stories demonstrate how using the internet has given them increased independence, as well as a chance to connect with more people and pursue their interests.  

“We’re passionate about digital literacy for older people and are delighted to sponsor these awards,” she said.

In total, five awards were presented at the ceremony today.

IT Tutor(s) of the Year Award winner

Anne Egan (70s) from Dundalk, Co Louth, won the IT Tutor of the Year award, which is given to an individual or group of any age who provides voluntary support to older learners.

Egan, a former school principal and teacher, believes that “education is a lifelong experience”.

She says she has moved on from the “talk and chalk” of the classroom to organising and providing IT classes for older people in Louth.  

For the past five years, Egan has been running two classes every year and has opened up the world of computers to almost 200 older people in Co Louth.  

With the help of the president of Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), she was given access to the computer suites in DKIT, free of charge.  

To date, Egan has sourced and trained more than 40 volunteer tutors who provide one-to-one computer training for older people. She manages and co-ordinates all aspects of running the classes on a voluntary basis.

Hobbies on the Net Award winner

The Hobbies on the Net award, which honours an older person who uses the internet to pursue their passion or hobby or who uses IT for communication and social networking, has gone to Seamus Harkin (76) from Creeslough, Co Donegal.

Harkin left school at the age of 14, and he has had many interesting jobs. He was a farmer and an undertaker, but says he has always had a curiosity about digital technology. He describes himself as a “digital champ”.

In 1986 he was involved in installing the first computer in a national school in Ireland, a BBC Compact.  

Harkin is also known in musical circles for being a much sought-after fiddle repairman.

And his knowledge of computers and the internet has been self-taught.

To date, he has written seven books – all on his computer – and he talks online to his son in Sydney, Australia. Closer to home, Harkin keeps in touch with friends and family through social media.  

He edits his photo collection on PhotoShop and buys old fiddles on eBay that he restores and sells all over Ireland.

Known locally as the ‘singing undertaker’, his life has been shaped by his enthusiasm for technology and self-taught skills.  

Without technology, Harkin says he would not have published his books, songs or bought old fiddles on eBay.

He says he would not be the man he is today but for the advent of the digital era.

Harkin was nominated by his daughter-in-law Janet Harkin.

Golden IT Award winner

The Golden IT award, for an individual over the age of 80 who uses technology to enhance their life, went to Michael Gorman (86) from Sandymount, Dublin.

Gorman has been an ardent advocate of computers and their benefits since they were first invented.  

In his lifetime he has worked as a theatre director, a magazine editor and as a tourism executive with Bord Fáilte.

Since he retired, computers and the internet have played an instrumental role in Gorman’s life.

He says this has helped him pursue his various interests and communicate with friends around the world.  

He has two iPads, which he says he “won’t go anywhere” without and he has all of his jazz tunes from the 1940s era categorised into YouTube playlists. Gorman also uses his computer to rediscover films and music from his past.

Since turning 80, he has embarked on a number of computer-related projects, most significantly his own blog – The Commonplace Book – where he records quotes he wants to remember.  

New to IT Award winner

Austin McPartlin (56), from Navan, Co Meath, won the New to IT award, which honours a person over the age of 50 who is new to technology and has overcome challenges to become an IT user.

He left school at 14 to become a fitter. In his spare time, he is a singer and musician and he sang with the ballad group Shamrog!.

With such a busy lifestyle, he says he never had much opportunity to use computers.

All of this changed when in 2007 he had major heart surgery and with free time on his hands he decided to learn how to use computers.

He earned the ECDL and MOS computer qualifications; set up a Gmail account and says he became proficient at ‘surfing the net’ and using Google search.

With his new skills he says he decided to do something constructive and write a book about the one thing he knew everything about; himself.  

Following two and half years of labour, he produced 64,000 words, and more than 100 photos to publish his biography entitled Parts of my life 1957, which he presented to his five children.  

His daughter Grainne nominated him for this award because she said the McPartlin’s family is very proud of how Austin has embraced technology.

Encouraging people to get online

Age Action head Robin Webster said it is important that we encourage as many older people as possible to learn how to use computers and new technology.  

“These technologies enable older people to play a full part in their communities.  

“New technology, as today’s winners show, can dramatically enhance the quality of older people’s lives. We hope that the example of today’s winners will encourage many more older people to take the plunge and begin learning these important new skills.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic