What does it mean to grow old in the digital world?
Since the turn of the millennium the way in which we interact with technology has revolutionised our daily lives. At the start of the 2000’s less than 7% of the world had access to the internet, while today over half the global population is online . Moreover, global increases of 981% in smartphone devices usage has allowed us to become more connected than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of improved connectivity, allowing for new employment opportunities, continuation of education and increased access to good and services. While many older people are present online, there are still a vast number of older adults who remain cut-off from this rapid digitisation and are at risk of increased isolation.
Key to improving digital inclusion is tackling the overall issue of ageism within society and assuming a lack of autonomy or participation in old age. Studies have shown that there is no link between age and digital literacy. It is estimated that there are significant digital skills gaps in almost over half of young adults. Challenging our stereotypes of older adults puzzled and confused by new technology and instead focusing on the importance of mastering technology and keeping connected should be at the heart of campaigns.
The design of interfaces has a huge impact on the accessibility of websites and applications for older people. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have highlighted need to consider declining vision, physical ability, hearing and cognitive ability throughout product design. As businesses continue to develop their products and services, working alongside and asking for feedback from older adults will help organisations and policy makers understand the key challenges these sections of our community’s face and how best to serve them as future technologies and tools emerge.
While increasing accessibility to the internet has been shown to reduce loneliness and increase mental wellbeing amongst older people, it is important to understand the risk of scams and fraudulent activity targeting the elderly . As well as raising awareness of the importance of digital inclusion, one of the key objectives of the 2021 UN Day of the Older Person was to explore the role of policies and legal frameworks to ensure privacy and safety of older persons in the digital world. By both focusing on improving digital literacy throughout the ageing population and updating policy and, we can work towards mitigating these risks.