Is the digital divide between young and elderly people increasing?

Gerd Paul, Christian Stegbauer


Elderly people still play a minor role in research on information needs and usage patterns of Internet users. Online research and advocacy groups look optimistically at the (economic and social) potential of the active and technology–skilled elderly; other approaches dealing with the social appropriation of technology see obstacles and stress the dangers of an increasing digital divide between generations. Our objective is to refer to taken for granted normative assumptions of the digital divide discourse, highlighting different requirements for the appropriation of the Internet. 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. The results show that the "two worlds apart" assumption (young vs. elderly people) is too simplistic. Factors like gender, education and socio–economic status still play an important role for acceptance and diffusion of a technology. 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. In our conclusions we look at the specific social status of the elderly cohort, which makes a comparison with other social groups very difficult.

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