How older people are mastering technology to stay connected after lockdown.
Attitudes towards technology
While many see digital technology as a challenge to be conquered, there are different ways of overcoming or confronting the obstacles. Some may view the challenge as a personal goal, using instruction manuals or simply trial and error to prevail over software updates, unwanted viruses or junk mail.
Others view digital technology as a collective endeavour, asking friends and family for help. Not only is this the most successful strategy, it also fosters important interaction with others. For example, during the pandemic many younger people acted as IT support for older friends and relatives.
Not all elderly people have this kind of network, but arguably they can benefit most from greater use of the internet to feel connected and keep loneliness at bay. In these situations, there are useful schemes run by charities such as Age UK, where digital champions can help older adults master technology.
Older people are often labelled technophobic, but since lockdown the digital divide is closing as more and more use technology to connect with others.
Understandably frustrations emerge when learning a new skill, but some older people have shown how they overcome their exasperation by developing a relationship with their devices. Naming their tablet or humanising their phone helps to bond older people to technology.
In our study different devices were often referred to as having a personality, gender, or even a mind of their own. This strategy brings a little levity to a situation that could otherwise be stressful.
Once these people become more used to digital technology, familiarity can encourage continued use. With a new device, software and apps they know and understand can be downloaded so that it feels less alien. Similarly, if a touchscreen is problematic, some older people might decide to use a keyboard and mouse instead.
Designing technology for older people should be based on their experiences and offer continuity. Digital devices need to include familiar commands, buttons, screens, and add-ons to previous models. This will enhance the ability to get to grips with updates and developments. And in turn this will help foster social connections as well as boost independence and confidence.
Stereotyping of older people also needs to stop. Experience and perspective should be acknowledged, respected and reflected in marketing campaigns. Messaging should underscore the potential benefits of mastering technology, emphasising the importance of being connected and socially involved to a person’s independence.
Finally, customer service should be easily accessible and well versed in issues older people face to provide the necessary support, building on schemes offered by Age UK’s digital champions. Clearly there is a crucial role for friends, family, and communities to ensure that older people remain socially active, engaged and connected through technology. Their wellbeing may depend on it.