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Paper 36 - The information aged

Neil Selwyn, Stephen Gorard and John Furlong

Social commentators are beginning to recognise that encouraging older adults’ use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is an essential prerequisite for (over)developed countries such as the United Kingdom becoming bone fide information societies. To date, however, few studies have examined older adults’ access to and use of ICTs in detail. This important aspect of the interaction between population ageing and societal change is more complex than the existing literature’s portrayal of a dichotomy between ‘successful users’ and ‘unsuccessful non-users’. We still know little, for example, about the reasons and motivations underlying older adults’ adoption or non-adoption of ICTs. We also know little about the nature of this use and the support which older adults draw upon regarding ICTs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we know little about the outcomes and ‘life-fit’ of older adults’ (non)use of ICTs. The paper examines the extent and nature of ICT access and use by older adults in their everyday lives through two sources of data: (i) information collected from a sub-sample of 352 adults aged over sixty years taken from a large household survey of ICT use in England and Wales among 1,001 people, and; (ii) follow-up interview data from thirty-five of these individuals. The findings suggest that using a computer is not only a minority activity amongst older adults but also highly stratified activity by gender, age, marital status and educational background. Conversely, non-use of computers can be attributed to the low relevance and ‘relative advantage’ to older adults’ lives. From this analysis the paper highlights the key issue of many older adults’ ambivalence towards ICT in light of the limited relevance of new technologies to their day-to-day lives. The paper concludes by considering what steps can be taken to facilitate wider use of ICT by older adults; in particular how political and academic assumptions about older people and ICTs might be refocused, away from trying to ‘change’ older adults, and towards involving older adults in changing ICT.

KEYWORDS — computers, information and communications technology, older adults, digital divide, ageing

Paper 36 - The information aged, Series Working Paper Series, (2003), ISBN 1 872330 87 8