Technophobia Amongst Older Adults in Ireland

By Hogan, Mairéad | Irish Journal of Management, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Technophobia Amongst Older Adults in Ireland


Hogan, Mairéad, Irish Journal of Management


INTRODUCTION

Older Adults and Computer Usage

The number of older adults is growing worldwide. The United Nations (2002) estimates that by the year 2015 those over sixty will represent 23.7 per cent of the population in the more developed regions of the world, with 24 per cent of the European population being over sixty. This population represents an important segment of computer users, as evidenced by a recent survey which states that older adults are the fastest growing online population in the US (NUA Internet Surveys, 2003). Internet usage in the EU15 (the member countries before expansion in 2004) has increased from 11.5 per cent to 16.9 per cent between 2001 and 2003, although older adults still lag behind younger adults (Commission of the European Communities, 2005). This is supported by data from the UK which also suggests that older adults lag behind younger adults in terms of computer usage (Selwyn, Gorard, Furlong and Madden, 2003).

Various governments, companies and voluntary organisations recognize the importance of ensuring that older adults are able to avail of the opportunities afforded by information and communications technology. In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services began a programme called 'Computers for Seniors' in order to give older Americans access to the Internet and enable them to make better use of various health programmes (Leavengood, 2001). The British government has pledged to achieve universal access to the Internet by 2005, resulting in various initiatives such as the establishment of distributed community sites for technology access in places such as museums, schools and libraries, as well as offering low-cost, re-conditioned computers to adults over sixty who are on state pensions (Selwyn et al., 2003). Here in Ireland, the government has committed to 'including everyone in the information society' as part of the social partnership agreement (Department of the Taoiseach, 2003: 21) while the Information Society Commission in Ireland identify the retired as low adopters of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and recommend that retired people should be one of the groups to be 'given priority in the national elnclusion Action Plan and all elnclusion activies' (Information Society Commission, 2003: 61).

Companies like Microsoft and Intel carry out research into the older adult market, as well as supporting programmes for older adults by donating hardware and software (Leavengood, 2001). Smaller companies, such as Sageport, develop applications specifically aimed at simplifying the technology of the PC, as well as providing applications that make access to the Internet more user-friendly for older adults by compensating for the natural limitations associated with aging, such as deteriorating vision and reduced dexterity (Leavengood, 2001). Non-profit organisations for older adults are also concerned with ensuring that the information needs of older adults are met. One such organisation, Creative Retirement Manitoba (CRM), has created an Internet site featuring a wide range of informational, educational and interactive resources for older adults, designed to explore the ability of electronic networks to meet the information needs of older adults (DeGraves and Denesiuk, 2000). CRM also provides computer training to older adults, with current demand outstripping its classroom space. This would seem to indicate that older adults are embracing computer technology and the Internet with growing confidence (DeGraves and Denesiuk, 2000). Here in Ireland many of the Active Retired Associations (ARAs) provide computer courses for older adults on a regular basis, as do a number of Vocational Educational Committees.

Studies suggest that older adults who use computers use them predominantly in connection with other interests or hobbies (White and Weatherall, 2000) and for Internet communication (DeGraves and Denesiuk, 2000; White and Weatherall, 2000). …

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