"How do I do this?": exploring an ageing population and digital exclusion
18th July 2022
Author: Donna Wong, Graduate School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan
Older adults, also referred to as the silver generation, have much to gain from adopting technology in their daily living and wellbeing (e.g., mobile payment, banking, exercise and gerontechnology). Yet as with most electronic gadgets and digital technology, the adoption rate among this demographic group is often the lowest. A significant challenge remains in integrating and appropriating the use of such technologies into their lives. This need has become more pertinent and urgent with the debilitating conditions (alone, enforced isolation, loss of connectedness, feeling trapped, restriction of mobility) that accompanied the pandemic lockdown in the last few years.
At the same time, the outbreaks of COVID-19 also revealed the digital divide between the younger and silver generations, highlighting the importance and long-term implications of the inclusion of the elderly in societal progress. Attention must be paid to the silver generation to better understand its perceptions of and behavioural patterns in adopting technologies to accelerate their technology-driven consumption and digital inclusion. This will help technology service providers tailor their services and embed them seamlessly into the lives of the ageing population and close the digital divide by encompassing the silver generation in the digitalised world.
Who are these people?
Opposite to the ‘early adopters’, this group of users is brusquely referred to as the ‘laggards’, which Rogers (1962) defined as people who lag the general population in their adoption of new products and innovative ideas. A common trait among this group is scepticism, which is linked to their processing fluency – the ease with which information is processed. Older adults also report forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, lack of control and confidence when it comes to technology acceptance. These, in turn, impact their perceived ease of use of technology. Against this background, they are more averse to new technologies and are often passive users of digital technology.
Why is it happening?
Studies within the information technology literature highlight how generational differences shape the entire process of technology acceptance and adoption (Chung et al., 2010; Metallo and Agrifoglio, 2015; Wong et al., 2021). Older adults experience digitalisation at a later stage in their adult lives. They may lack the technological fluency of digital natives who grew up in and/or with the presence of digital technology. Besides, the technology is not always readily accepted and adopted by users, particularly among older adults, due to concerns associated with such technologies mentioned earlier. There also exists the challenge of stereotyping, where older adults are depicted as struggling with digital technology or appearing perplexed with its management. Images like these can undermine the confidence of potential users and turn older adults from attempting to engage with technology. There is also the issue of poor product design, which can lead to feelings of incompetency and discontinued use of technology. Product innovation often ignores and neglects their needs as they are not the key target market.
Where is it happening?
Everywhere in the world! Digital exclusion of older adults is not unique to any country, although different societies are likely to have different adoption rates for different types of technological innovations. However, it affects most senior populations around the world.
How can we resolve it?
Through our research (see Wong et al., 2021), we elucidate how gamification can be harnessed effectively in facilitating the adoption of technology, particularly mobile payment, among the silver generation. Integrating games into technology promotes an enjoyable experience among older adults in their digital engagement, easing the psychological resistance senior people experience with technology.
These findings are essential for technology development, marketing services and service providers. Extant studies on technology adoption and product innovation have focused predominantly on millennials or the general public without drawing sociodemographic boundaries. A practical step is to encourage research on and design technology to consider the needs of older adults.
The problem of digital exclusion among older adults will not decline as technology advances relentlessly in a world where an ageing population is becoming a norm. Eventually, a wave of innovation may sweep through mainstream society and render it impossible for older adults to go on their daily lives without it. It is never too late to get to grips with current challenges and develop solutions for digital inclusion and technology engagement among the silver generation.
Chung, J. E., Park, N., Wang, H., Fulk, J., & McLaughlin, M. (2010). Age differences in perceptions of online community participation among non-users: An extension of the Technology Acceptance Model. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1674-1684.
Metallo, C., & Agrifoglio, R. (2015). The effects of generational differences on use continuance of Twitter: an investigation of digital natives and digital immigrants. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(9), 869-881.
Rogers, E. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.
Wong, D., Liu, H., Meng-Lewis, Y., Sun, Y. and Zhang, Y. (2022), "Gamified money: exploring the effectiveness of gamification in mobile payment adoption among the silver generation in China", Information Technology & People, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 281-315.
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