SeniorNet, V. 2.0: The Changing Roles of Computers and the Internet in the Leisure Lives of Older Adults

Article excerpt

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are becoming increasingly pervasive in our work and leisure lives. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that, last year, nearly 143 million Americans accessed the Internet on a daily basis; that number has surely grown in the interim. An increasing number of those logging on are older adults--about 30 percent of Americans age 55 and over own computers (Adler, 1996). Given the increasingly integral role of the Internet mad e-mail in daily life, Baby Boomers, who are now between the ages of 39 and 57, will likely drive up the percentage of older adults who use computers.

The Baby Boomer cohort has been characterized as a well-educated and wealthy generation. Previous research has revealed that older adults with higher levels of education and income often have favorable attitudes toward computers (Kerschner & Hart, 1984). Considering the Baby Boomers, most of whom have been exposed to computers and the Internet, it seems highly likely that both the number of these users and the amount of time they'll spend online will lead to marked changes in leisure patterns. This phenomenon is likely to pose new challenges for professionals in park and recreation fields in at least two ways. First, increased computer use is likely to lead to a need to redirect services to meet senior Internet users' needs. Second, the increased online uses of computers by the new generation of older adults is likely to require that recreation and park professionals provide new services. The purpose of this research update is to shed light on current research related to the use of computers and the Internet by older adults. We do this to help call attention to the need, and provide an initial means to frame future programming and research related to the leisure use of computers and the Internet among older adults.

Technology and the Psychological Well-Being of Older Adults

Older adults often experience negative age-related changes, such as gradual physical decline, emotional isolation and social disconnection. However, information technology allows these individuals to relocate themselves in cyber communities, thereby helping to maintain connectivity to contemporary society. This type of connectivity is important for older adults to maintain their feeling of psychological well being. A study conducted by White and colleagues (1999) at Duke University concluded that teaching older adults to use computers to access the Internet and e-mail was feasible. The researchers found a trend toward decreased loneliness among the older participants who used the Internet and e-mail, leading the researchers to believe that there's potential to produce a beneficial impact on psychosocial well being through communication technology intervention.

Computer and Internet use may help to compensate for mental or physical deficits of older adults, expanding, for instance, their social support network. As Cooper (1999) stated while discussing the effect of cultural changes on human societies, the cultural aspects of our identities becomes thicker and changes ever faster: "This is particularly true of open societies in the past few centuries, where the process of creation and dissemination of new ideas, especially ones ill which new technologies have figured in direct or subtle ways, have been occurring at an unprecedented pace. Think of how the myriad direct ways in which the technological spin-offs of science have ever changed our societies over the past three centuries, or the subtle ways in which recent technologies are making the physically weak less prey to, or dependent upon, the physically strong, change forever, in ways unparalleled in the rest of the animal kingdom ... Perhaps no cultural change has affected us so quickly and profoundly as the current transition to all information age" (p. 470).

Computers and the Internet can off set physical losses age-related declines or mental disability, and alter individuals' existing disadvantage and weakness. …

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