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There are, however, some severe socio-technical arguments which demonstrate why the elderly lack sufficient motivation to participate. We have to keep in mind that the IT sector targets its products to the young and affluent, having in mind a trickle down model from early adopters to the broad public. The results of our own study (the housing study of elderly 65 plus dwellers) had a too small database of Internet users, which made further statistical analysis impossible.
“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.
Generally young heavy users have more public and scientific attention than “light” or casual users or non-users. There are at least three types of “heavy” Internet users among the population. The first group represents Internet users who perform their online activities nearly exclusively at work, often mixing corporate and private interests. A second group uses the Internet equally at work and home. We might describe these individuals as young professionals, for whom technology use is permanently part of their lifestyle.
Most of our arguments are taken from German Internet research and the discourse on the digital divide. It might be the case – given a current controversial discussion about the “burden” of the elderly – that a new definition of “generation” might be more appropriate. Rosenmayrâ€™ definition of “generation” is a “polarisation of interests of age related large groups which mutually allocate and deny each-others resources” . This would mean that inclusion rhetoric is good for economically sound times; when it comes to periods of stagnation and crisis only appeals to self-help or the invocation of the market to provide courses would remain. The “silvermedia” experience shows that there is a potential for age-specific courses and for low-level introductory courses.
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We frequently heard in interviews with the elderly that wanted to avoid being a stupid absolute beginner; this concern discourages them from giving it a try. We rather refer to bits and pieces of studies on the elderly and the Internet.
The elderly, especially those with reduced mobility, will be more dependent on simple access modes than younger age groups. How can they be approached successfully?
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.
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 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.
Internet access and competence seem to be imperative. A complete participation of the population would be the best way to make use of the technological and social potential and advantages of the Internet.
The answer is through both informal and formal learning. Computer-learning and the knowledge acquisition of modern technologies is per se informal learning.