Age and Income: Unwanted effects on technology utilization?

5 05 2010

It is no secret that the population in the United States is ageing at a rapid rate. This can largely be attributed to the baby boomers following the end of World War II who are now the ones entering retirement age en mass. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Department on Aging estimates that adults age 65 or older will account for 19% of the United States population by 2030, equivalent to 72 million people. Similar trends are beginning to play out in other countries around the globe as well.

Since it seems that there are more people ageing during a period in history where technology is increasingly becoming ingrained with every day lifestyles, where do older adults fit in this situation? That is one of several interesting topics analyzed at a recent presentation by one of my master’s program classmates, JQ Abbey. As more people enter into convalescence, how are they to interact with the latest technological breakthroughs in digital communications?

Attempts are being made to get older adults not just online but comfortable enough in using online technology to realize the great potential that the Internet holds at any age. Silver Surfer’s Day is an annual event begun in 2002 where various events are held around the United Kingdom to help older adults understand and utilize digital technology. This year’s events are taking place on May 21. In addition to providing Internet assistance, Silver Surfer’s Day events can take on many forms in bridging the gap between older adults and cutting edge technology. Resources for utilizing social media tools such as Twitter, how to play interactive video games or using digital cameras to upload pictures online are all possible topics discussed at these events.

If events such as these were taken away, how would older adults gain hands-on experience with new technology? Some might say that their children can teach them. This seems more like a cope out for several reasons. For one thing, their children are adults themselves with adult responsibilities that come with living their own lives such as jobs and raising their own children. Secondly, time can be a highly elusive entity. In order for an older adult to become familiarized with the latest technological tools, incremental steps will likely need to be taken along with plenty of time to answer any questions that are almost guaranteed to surface. Finally, what about older adults without any offspring? Are they just deemed unlucky and therefore unable to be taught how to use a laptop computer to surf the Internet?

Older adults are not the only members of worldly populations who are at a disadvantage in using technology. My classmate’s presentation also pointed out that children and families in lower income areas also experiencing similar problems. When money is limited, many families cannot afford Internet service, but efforts are underway in attempts to lessen the “digital gap” that results in such situations. One effort is the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation, which is an intensive program that provides technology skills training to children and their parents from economic disadvantaged urban areas. The program takes place in the children’s own school, often on weekends, where teachers help to facilitate the skills training. The benefits from this approach are multifaceted:

  • Parent/child bonds can strengthen
  • Parental communication and trust with their child’s teacher are increased
  • Community involvement is encouraged
  • Completing the program provides child and parent with greater confidence and ability to use different technological tools and resources

What is most interesting about these paradigms is that they focus on a shared problem between two seemingly unique populations. For older adults, they often lack familiarity with technology such as computers and how to use the Internet. For families living in lower economic levels, often access and training for technology use is lacking. However, clearly benefits can be realized by addressing these groups. The aforementioned programs are steps in the right direction. This is especially true when considering that a recent BBC World Service poll found nearly four out of five people consider Internet access to be a fundamental human right. With that kind of sentiment being clearly documented, more efforts need to be made to allow humans of all ages comfort in using the basic modern technologies.



One response

11 05 2010

This is a really important and often left behind issue in today’s society. I deal with it every day in my office as I try to push our Website and Web products. The older folks in the office ignore them and try to resist, but we’re at the point now that if they don’t accept new practices and new requirements then we will have to find younger people that will. This is the case across the work force. You get younger people that are much more versed in computer technology and the Internet and the experience of the older veterans isn’t as important as it once was.

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