Digital can help close the intergenerational gap
In partnership with Age Action Alliance, we've been working on a project to look at what more could be done to get the benefits of digital to those in later life.
Use of digital technology is clearly a differentiator between younger and older age groups – the statistics continue to back this up.
Chris loves the Internet. He’s connected wherever he is, through a laptop, iPad or smartphone. He reads newspapers and books online, together with a wide range of newsletters reflecting his interests, and shares gossip, ideas, photos and video with friends and family. He avoids being swamped by Twitter and Facebook messages by using a news aggregator called Nuzzel that digests what friends are sharing. He does his banking and specialist shopping online, plans trips and checks timetables … often on the move. When he is going to an event it’s usually booked online, and if it’s a meet-up he can see who is coming and carry on chatting online afterwards.
Chris is 73. How many of you reading that opening statement assumed he was in his 20s or 30s?
Use of digital technology is clearly a differentiator between younger and older age groups – the statistics continue to back this up. The 2016 Ofcom report on Adult media usage stated that there is “increasing polarity between different age groups in terms of communications activity. Whereas 25 years ago, all age groups shared just two common means of communication – landlines and letters – the landscape is now considerably more varied, and there is a risk that common means of communication that cut across demographics are becoming increasingly rare, with implications for social connectivity and information-sharing”.
We do not have to accept this as the status quo. We should not let digital technology be another source of division between the old and young – when instead it can be a key driver for enabling a more intergenerational society. Millions of those in later life are getting the benefit of being better connected to people of all ages by using digital: through social media, instant messaging, video calls, hobby sites and pursuing community interests.
Yet too many people are missing out. GO Science’s 2015 report on the Future of Ageing stated “It is estimated that 4.8 million people aged over 64 have never used the internet”. And for many of the people who can access the internet, a lack of skills, or lack of knowledge of the digital solutions out there, means they are not able to make the most of the potential.
The Centre for Ageing Better has been working with New Philanthropy Capital and Age Action Alliance on a project called Joined Up Digital, to look at what more could be done to get the benefits of digital to more people in later life. We convened more than 50 organisations from across all sectors to identify barriers, including lack of infrastructure, cost of devices, and availability of internet access. We identified the lack of digital skills, not only among individuals but also many of the organisations working with them. We reflected that despite digital innovations receiving millions of pounds of funding they were not reaching the front line. In general we are doing a poor job of selling the benefits of digital.
One major conclusion from our work was that the role of people close to the older person could hold the key. Looking at the close networks of people in later life often reveals people with a smartphone or an iPad – a son or daughter, a friend, a carer. I have experienced how a 20-minute conversation can help someone see the benefits of digital – the first step to engaging with it. The question is can we do more to enable these people to be the bridge between the wants and needs of those in later life to the opportunities that digital technology can offer?
Many of us know someone who is missing out on the benefits of being digitally connected – a parent, a neighbour or beneficiary. Could you enable them to get more out of life by being more connected to the world around them? Perhaps the key to a society where we all enjoy the benefits of digital technology rests with each of us.