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 .
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.
Using the concept of technological generations we look at formal and informal learning of young and elderly people in the German context. We use survey material and field impressions we gained in various technology related studies.
“Age Concern” found that male seniors mostly go online for information or to pursue their hobbies, whereas women prefer to use the Internet to communicate with close friends and family (NUA, 2002). We presume that the Internet interest of elderly male users is somehow influenced by their former job experiences.
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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.
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).
- No doubt, on the individual level, the elderly can profit personally from turning to the Internet.
- It requires – like most successful learning activities – a lot of manpower for support and instruction, plus a technical infrastructure.
- 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.
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.
Most sites meet the needs of experienced young male users, whereas the need and interest of elderly women, the majority of the senior potential, are not targeted. Generally, for the elderly the Internet has a different collective significance than in other generations. In this article we present limits to the individual (motivational) approach, holding that access is a structural problem (e.g., the integration of the work and non-work spheres), as, for example, expressed in social network approaches (Stegbauer, 2001). The work sphere requires computer literacy and gives a magnitude of Internet use-reasons.
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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.
You need a device, a problem and someone who can help you to solve the problem. This is the big advantage of the young generation, who are socialised into this muddling through approach. Older individuals essentially have to unlearn some routines in order to deal with technology. 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.