Home → Magazine Archive → March 2018 (Vol. 61, No. 3) → March 2018 (Vol. 61, No. 3) → Abstract

The Wisdom of Older Technology (Non)Users

By Bran Knowles, Vicki L. Hanson

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 3, Pages 72-77
10.1145/3179995

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It is impossible not to notice that many of the questions driving research on technology use by older adults today are the same as those at the forefront of aging and accessibility research 20 years ago. Back then, computers were predominantly large desktops, social media was still on the horizon, and mobile phones were large and not (yet) smart. Older adults had little presence on the Internet. Today, devices have changed and older adults are increasingly online.9,15 They do, however, continue to lag in broadband use, breadth of applications used, and time online.12 Typical reports reflect they have little interest in social media (other than staying in touch with family) and are skeptical of online financial transactions.17

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Key Insights

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Clearly, the problem of older adults' comparatively limited technology use has not gone away despite a more tech-savvy group of people aging into the "older adult" category. According to the most recent data, from 2014–2016,12,15 predictions of a forthcoming "Silver Tsunami" of retired workers—a cohort now accustomed to digital technology access in their working lives and therefore able to take full advantage of the Internet—have not come true.9 Indeed, the overwhelming perception remains of older generations being incapable of or otherwise resistant to using technology. A "digital divide" between old and young is potentially more disabling now compared to 20 years ago, given the push for a more fully realized digital society. Digital technologies today are so essential to daily life that it is reasonable to ask whether older adults' inability to access online-only government services may soon be included among the precipitating factors in older adults moving into assisted living.

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