Why Do Older Adults Participate Less in the Digital World?
Updated: Apr 4
The pandemic was a major boost for digital communications technology. For so many, video calls have become second nature, streaming TV has become the go-to source of entertainment, and all sorts of business from banking to shopping are now naturally done online. Even many government and healthcare services have moved into the online world. Yet, our dependency on Information and Communication Technologies, or ICTs, comes at a great cost for a significant part of society, among others older adults.
Age is one of the major factors affecting digital participation. One simply cannot expect older people to take part in the digital world when devices and apps required for access have not been designed with their needs taken into account. Whether extrinsic or intrinsic, various factors lead to older people facing the digital divide.
Why do older adults participate less in the digital world? Let’s investigate some of the main barriers.
Learning New Technologies
According to Pew Research Center, about 50% of individuals aged 65 years and above say they need help when using a new electronic device such as a tablet or smartphone to go online. More than a third are not confident in the use of technology at all.
Older generations were not exposed to digital technology in their earlier lives as compared to their younger peers, so it takes more time and effort for them to adopt new devices. And even though instructions are available, they are often written from a perspective that is too technical and not very meaningful to people who are not digital natives. Uncertainty grows to frustration and rejection of new technologies.
Attitudes Toward Technology
An often neglected reason for older adults‘ non-participation in the digital world is their attitudes toward technology.
Privacy and security concerns and fear of online fraudsters are relevant and valid factors slowing down the adoption of technology. Personal information like contact or credit card data collected by mobile devices raises threats, especially for those who are not very familiar or comfortable with connected devices. Another Pew Research Center publication reveals that Americans aged 65 and older are less likely to feel in control over who can access their online activity data, and less likely to think they benefit from the data collection than younger individuals.
Research confirms that self-efficacy, comfort, and interest heavily influence the perceived usefulness of Information and Communication Technologies. Yet in view of these concerns, the added value of digital devices to many is neither clear nor convincing.
Older generations have different requirements and expectations when navigating the digital world. Physical abilities change as people age. Reduced vision or developing tremors complicate smartphone and tablet use even for people who previously were comfortable with their use. These devices are simply not designed with the needs of older people in mind. Many, even otherwise helpful, features are not convenient for use by older adults.
Besides physical conditions, the change in cognitive abilities also contributes to older adults‘ non-participation in the digital world. Today’s devices are anything but easy-to-use with complex user interfaces, their overabundance of apps, and overloaded swiping gestures, in particular for people who did not grow up with this technology.
Other major barriers include lack of digital literacy and previous experience, computer anxiety, cost of regular access to technology, fear of embarrassment, and perceived lack of time.
How Can Eimy Help?
As mentioned in our previous blog post, our goal at Eimy is to open a door for older adults to keep in touch with loved ones securely and easily. The specific needs of this demographic are the top priority while we design our products. We aim to build a trustable environment where individuals do not miss the chance to share joyful moments with family and friends.
Staying in touch is more important than ever when half the people over 60 are at risk of social isolation and loneliness, very real health hazards of our time. Together, we can create a society where older adults are not socially excluded in the digital world.