On the United Nations International Day of Older Persons of 01 October 2021, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was keen to emphasize that “digital equality” online, needs to be "inclusive of everybody, regardless of age", in his message he addresses that each individual faces the challenge of navigating the world’s growing reliance on technology.
It’s a diffused sentiment that for better or worse, that today, our world has become more dependent on the internet as technology has expanded and the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person activities dangerous for many. There is evidence of a deep digital divide between generations, now more than ever, in Europe, for example, only one in four older Europeans have basic or above basic digital skills, compared to two in three in the age group 35 to 44; three in four among 25-34 years old and four in five among youth (16-24), according to data from the Un Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Elderly people are left to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of life without connectivity.
Ageing Western societies are facing challenges from the perspective of the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance quality of life by sustaining independent living and providing opportunities for greater democratic and societal engagement. Globally, there were 703 million persons aged 65 or over in 2019. Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide, is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050.
When it comes to identifying some strategies to address the Digital Divide, it is important to identify some initiatives that older people and their caregivers can get pulled through. When it comes to getting and staying connected the first important step is to acquire internet at home, then subsequently to obtain computer should be the next phase. Depending on the area of residence, there are a few organizations and networks that provide older people with computers, some local organizations in one’s area can also help seniors get online, such as senior community centres and libraries with computers labs or check-out programs for tech. Cross-collaboration research efforts among academic-healthcare-industrial discourses are required to design and innovate digital inclusion initiatives for senior citizens.
The digital gab due to age seems to be closing but at a very slow pace, while Internet use is increasing among seniors, it is evident that older adults go through a struggle process for specific and new digital applications. Considering the development of the Internet over the past 20 years and its ever-growing relevance for virtually every aspect of societal life, just allowing this to run its course does not seem to be a viable option for digital inequality initiatives.
Age particularly plays an important role for the adoption of digital technology, and younger persons are over-represented among the so-called innovators and early adopters. When studying formal, operational Internet Skills, it is also evident that older people perform more poorly than younger ones, the digital divide is not only evident between younger and older generations, but above all within the senior group, where the older seniors to a large extent are excluded. A lack of internet experience during an earlier period of life has proven to be one of the reasons why some senior citizens do not take up new technology.
On a general level, the uptake of the Internet has been relatively slow among the older population in comparison to the population average. There are, however, large differences when comparing different groups of elderly, in the mid-2000s, the youngest group of elderly (60 to 64 years) were on roughly the same level as the average population. The diffusion took relatively long time among serious aged 65 and above, and the uptake among people aged 80+ has only recently started. While about 80 per cent of the younger seniors are frequent Internet users (daily or several times a week), the level is about one third among the oldest.
It is evident that digital equality goes beyond mere access to Internet and technology, it is more about the importance of being able to access to resources such as access to healthcare, look for health information or access to online banking. This so called “usage gap” is clearly visible in the present analysis. Since digital uses and activities increasingly interfere with most spheres of daily life in the age group of 80-85 years are not taking any part in digital applications, it is likely that an increasingly digitised society might suffer from not having all citizens included in digital activities. It is essential to keep stressing on the importance behind digital skills to also develop a newfound confidence, freedom and connection, and insist that the idea that they are “too old” or that “technology is just for the young people” is simple a thing of the past.