A third group largely uses the Internet at home; we might include in this group students and – to a lesser degree – the elderly. 31. “NetValue” figures from the U.K. (which is in third position with 13 percent of the total home online population after Sweden [17.4] and Denmark [16.3]) show a sharp Internet usage increase of 90 percent since 2001 for the elderly (NUA Survey information of 28 March 2002).
B. Östlund, 2003. “Social science research on technology and the elderly – Does it exist?” at www.certec.lth.se/britt.ostlund/SocialScience.pdf, accessed 25 September 2005. The use of the Internet by the elderly may not reach the levels noted for younger audiences. This is a result that many popular Internet applications are not aimed at the elderly and their interests .
We doubt it. In the article we ask about the nature of obstacles for significant increases in the participation rate among the elderly and pose the question which needs of this group are served – or not. We presume that socio-structural arguments help to answer this question and introduce a specific concept of “technological generations” as an explanatory variable. As a strong contrast group, we take young people, a group with a very high Internet penetration.
The elderly, especially those with reduced mobility, will be more dependent on simple access modes than younger age groups. How can they be approached successfully?
On the societal level, with the growth of services like e-banking or e-government, traditional face-to-face services will decrease. In a way, some elderly Internet adopters are contributing involuntarily to a decrease in living conditions for non-Internet users of their own generation.
Elderly people still play a minor role in research on information needs and usage patterns of Internet users. Online research and advocacy groups look optimistically at the (economic and social) potential of the active and technology-skilled elderly; other approaches dealing with the social appropriation of technology see obstacles and stress the dangers of an increasing digital divide between generations. Our objective is to refer to taken for granted normative assumptions of the digital divide discourse, highlighting different requirements for the appropriation of the Internet.
Pure learning by doing helps, but even if they manage to access digital information they need an intellectual effort to translate it into personal meaningful knowledge. For the young, the use of the Internet has individual and collective significance, the latter in the sense of a cultural background for communities, collective styles and values offering the possibilities to distinguish from others. At the same time the use of the Internet allows some to participate in a technology orientated “modern” lifestyle, dominated by gadgets and strong normative rules of what is “in” and what is “out.” This strong technological lifestyle group, though, as it is demonstrated in the Deutsche Shell youth study, represents only a minority of well-educated male high school students . Even among the young there is a minority which, after a certain period of enthusiasm, withdraw from computers and the Internet.
The so-called digital divide or knowledge gap between current younger and older generations is not very likely to be closed in the near future. Nevertheless the gap will become smaller over time, because the rate of elderly Internet users is growing. We expect that growth will in turn create more growth. If the Internet becomes more widely diffused among the elderly, there will be more opportunities for mutual support.
- The answer is through both informal and formal learning.
- Rosenmayr’ definition of “generation” is a “polarisation of interests of age related large groups which mutually allocate and deny each-others resources” .
- Generally young heavy users have more public and scientific attention than “light” or casual users or non-users.
- Trial and error, self-education as informal learning is not comfortable for the elderly, but until now it has been the way to acquire practical knowledge.
- However they have considerable latecomer advantages .
There are a number of stories about grandpa learning about a computer from his grandson or daughter, learning step-by-step and supported by a younger individual acquainted with his shortcomings and peculiarities. This generational co-operation is one smooth solution to a deeper conflict in which and older individual is dependent but wants to be autonomous. The need for individualised special support by others, even by younger, “known” individuals, is a potential menace to one’s self-image and role as the “grown-up.” On the one hand informal computer-learning with peers or family members increases acceptance and creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding. On the other hand the complicated emotional situation of both parties can lead to conflicts. In short, often a professional pedagogical approach might be more appropriate.
The diffusion rate among the elderly is increasing, but will continue to lag behind the figures of the young users. Cultural preparations and easy access modes are essential for the elderly, who could make use of latecomer advantages. Informal learning and peer group support will be crucial for the diffusion of the Internet among the elderly.
We tried to show that knowledge gap and digital divide discourses implicitly foster the myth of a technological driven social development. In this vein the elderly are obstacles for the rapid development of the Information Society, which promises to remove social barriers and provide a variety of e-based services. Concerns for increases in the digital divide between generations must be taken seriously but they still have a normative base (taking for granted that everyone has to use the Internet which per se has a positive value).
Having access to information is not the problem but rather its interpretation and its reframing in a personal and social context. Too often the current debate equates information for knowledge.
Non-users are regarded as obstacles to innovation and progress. In this perspective the elderly are the most difficult group due to their low adoption pace which required specific pedagogical efforts to motivate each individual. In group 60+ the proportion of Internet users is smaller than in other age groups. Elderly men are more likely to use the Internet than women. The rate of elderly users will gradually grow in Germany  but it will never reach the rates of younger users.
The answer is through both informal and formal learning. Computer-learning and the knowledge acquisition of modern technologies is per se informal learning.