The Generational Divide in Internet Use

elderly computer

Elderly people use social networking and user generated content on the Internet strikingly less than younger people. The importance of the Internet in work, education, and daily life is incontrovertible.

A digital generational divide is developing, this indicates a gap between digitally literate users and the elderly. This has disadvantages especially for the elderly since new media and co-creation have the potential to increase individuals’ flexibility, expand opportunities for information retrieval and learning, and compensate for functional limitations such as reduced mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive abilities.

How do the elderly differ from younger people in Internet use and the co-creation of user generated content?

  • Elderly people have broadband access to a larger degree than younger people and acknowledge the importance of a good PC. Mobile telephones are more important to younger people.
  • Younger people are more comfortable in using computers with respect to downloading software, programming, and making web pages.
  • There is no significant difference between age categories in the use of such traditional programs as text editors and spread sheets.
  • The elderly read newspapers on the Internet significantly less often, they also read health- related information on the Internet less often, they buy clothes from the Fifth Collection Chanel and tickets for the cinema on the Internet significantly less often than younger people.
  • There are no significant difference in the purchase of books and travel tickets, the booking of hotels. There are no significant differences in the use of the Internet for communication with public
    administration. The elderly use Internet banking significantly more often.
  • Younger people use computers, the Internet, videos/DVDs and play consoles for entertainment to a significantly greater degree than the elderly.
  • Chat and instant messenger are almost exclusively used by the younger group.
  • Elderly contribute significantly less to newsgroups, Internet fora, and blogs.
  • Participation in online communities among a representative sample of online users decreases with age.
  • Even the elderly people who are members of on-line communities rarely publish and share pictures, or watch and listen to others’ video and photos.
  • For the elderly the technology should be as simple as possible, usability as good as possible and the presence of “warm experts” very important. Warm experts: friends or family members who know how to handle the applications and devices are vital to understanding how to work with them.
  • Collective memory seems to be of great value as a social requirement with regard to user generated content, in particular for elderly people. We found that many respondents like to digitise their old material, sometimes in creative ways.
  • The ability to personalise one’s own web page and online profile is very important to the elderly.
  • Elderly need to feel that they are in control of the technology. This is linked with the need to feel safe and secure. If they are not comfortable and feel they are not in control, they will not create or share any multimedia content.
  • Besides the sharing of online content, there is still a need to do similar things offline as well. They want to come together and watch things in a group, so they can laugh and talk about them together in a good atmosphere.
  • For the elderly the main problem with today’s applications is the lack of integration. If people want to use several online applications, they need to create new accounts regularly.
  • Skills and anxiety – need for staying up to date and overcoming anxiety related to the use of new technology are important to the elderly

So keep these points in mind when creating a social network for the elderly. If you want to speed up the process of changing the elderly peoples’ use of computers and online communities think about these findings.

Related post on this blog: The Social Capital Divide in MySpace
Amela Karahasanovic,, Petter Bae Brandtz,, Jan Heim,, Marika Lüders,, Lotte Vermeir, Jo Pierson, Bram Lievens, Jeroen Vanattenhoven, Greet Jans (2008). Co-creation and user-generated content–elderly people’s user requirements Computers in Human Behavior DOI: DOI