Does my grandma even need the internet?
Research shows that new, people-centred approaches are needed to help everyone in later life benefit from the internet.
Jemma Mouland, author of our ‘The digital age’ report, writes that digital inclusiveness comes hand-in-hand with understanding the reasons behind people’s online behaviour in later life.
At Ageing Better, we often talk about the importance of ‘starting with the person’ – an approach that’s only too needed, according to our latest research on digital inclusion.
What strikes me is that, too often, engaging people in later life with digital starts with the ‘digital’ part – it’s all about achieving basic digital skills, teaching older people to use the internet as an end in and of itself. But what our research, carried out by digital charity Good Things Foundation, shows is that digital is just a means to a plethora of other benefits – which could be many different things, like paying bills and claiming benefits, or learning about the world and buying gifts online. It all depends on what that person truly finds useful, and how the internet adds value that they would otherwise have missed.
Writing this report, I found myself thinking about my grandma, and whether she really wants to be checking her gas meter or booking hair appointments using the internet. Honestly, I’m not sure she does.
Digital support needs to become part of the everyday: anyone supporting older people should be able to identify if and how digital can help an individual and provide the appropriate support.
Digital exclusion isn’t just about getting older people online
My grandma doesn’t have to be online either. When she needed to apply for her blue badge or when she wanted to find a good deal on a new TV, Mum helped her.
Ultimately, not everyone has a pressing need to do things online, no matter how convenient it might seem to others. And we can’t forget that while some people might benefit hugely from greater digital access, they might not realise it, or might have any number of reservations.
We need to be thinking much more carefully about the drivers and barriers to using the internet; personal circumstance, self-confidence and individual perception of value of ‘being online’ are all factors we need to think through. Whilst those who are more confident and interested might seek out standalone digital support, not everyone will.
Digital support needs to become part of the everyday: anyone supporting older people should be able to identify if and how digital can help an individual and provide the appropriate support. We need to be trialling new models of engagement, outreach and ways of embedding digital support within a wider range of services.
And in recognising that some people will not get online – approximately 4.8 million people over the age of 55 according to the latest ONS statistics are not online – we must make sure that those who choose not to use the internet don’t lose out.
It's about starting with the person, understanding their needs and motivations, and enabling them to use digital to meet these – not starting with digital and thinking about how we can try and ‘sell it’ to people in later life.