Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Revisiting the Digital Divide: Generational Differences in Technology Use in Everyday Life

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Revisiting the Digital Divide: Generational Differences in Technology Use in Everyday Life

Article excerpt

Technology has a central and evolving role in American society. Technology is defined in a number of ways, including being a tool that people use for intellectual and social purposes (Luppicini, 2005). Indeed, people of all ages use technology for interpersonal communication, information, and entertainment, but are there differences in the degree to which it is central to their lives and the contexts in which they use it? It is important to examine the demographic factors that may predict comfort with, use of, and preference for different types of technology, as it becomes ever more necessary for organizational and personal communication. Generation, or age, has recently been reported to be a more important predictor of technology use than sex (Van Volkom, Stapley, & Malter, 2013) and to be dependent upon context. The current study builds on past research by examining sex and age differences together as well as exploring demographic differences in attitudes toward and use of technology (e.g., frustration felt when using technology, use of a cell phone to make calls and send text messages).

Age Differences in General Technology Use

Despite technology use being generally prevalent in American society, there are data that suggest both similarities and differences by age. For example, fifty-five percent of adults access the Internet via their mobile phone and adults under 50 years old are just as likely to use mobile Internet access as teenagers (Madden, Lenhart, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser, 2013). Recent reports of the percentage of teens who own a tablet (25%) are almost the same for adults between 18-50 years old (23%). However, in general, older adults tend to express less interest in technology (e.g., computers), and use less variety of technology than younger adults, which affects how prevalent technology is for older users (Czaja et al., 2006). Younger users (18-28) of technology usually have more experience with various types of technology and functions of technology (Olson, O'Brien, Rogers, & Charness, 2011), such as experience with different computer parts and computer functions. Older adults (65-90) seem to understand some types of advanced computer functioning, but they usually have less experience with them than younger adults. Recent data from PEW foundation studies revealed that older adults eventually adopt new technologies, but do not necessarily do it as quickly as younger adults (Zickuhr & Madden, 2012).

The younger population appears to have more positive attitudes concerning technology than the older population (Czaja et al., 2006; Purcell, Brenner, & Rainie, 2012; Van der Kaay & Young, 2012). Researchers found that older participants (60-91) expressed less interest in technology and a less favorable attitude towards technology than the middle-aged (40-59) and younger participants (13-39). When further analyzing negative perceptions of technology, the older population reported a variety of frustrations with technology. In research conducted on adults 85 years and older, participants expressed being frustrated with the overreliance of society on technology and the lack of human contact due to the increased usage of automated systems (Heinz et al., 2013). Participants specifically noted being upset by the utilization of technology for social interactions and frequently expressed the feeling that technology is too complex for them to fully understand. However, they would like to see technology be of use to them, including aiding them with their transportation needs, helping them remain independent, and improving their health. Despite frustrations, participants were still open to technology use.

Age Differences in Internet Use

With respect to the Internet, younger adults generally have been using the Internet longer and use it more frequently than their older counterparts (Olson et al., 2011). Older adults are also less experienced with using touch screens on various devices such as phones, computers, and tablets. …

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