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Silver Surfers: Inclusion or Excursion in a Digital World?

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have found that a digital divide still exists and that more silver surfers (over 50s) need to obtain and use the internet in their daily lives.

In the wake of a Government announcement last month that plans to tackle the digital divide among young families by providing parents on low income with equipment and internet access, Dr Jyoti Choudrie and Dr Susan Grey from the University’s Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities Research Institute have revealed research findings about the older generation.

Governments across the globe are striving to provide online products and services to all user groups. However certain socially-disadvantaged groups such as the disabled, older people and people from poorer backgrounds are not using online products and services, leading to a digital divide.

This research funded by the University of Hertfordshire, Microsoft, Citizens Online and the Association of Information Systems was carried out using a global survey alongside data obtained from Citizens Online. It reveals that although broadband is being implemented in the home, silver surfers are not using it; with people over the age of seventy-four not using the internet at all. The research also shows that although silver surfers stated they had broadband at home, they were in a household shared with others and it was actually others within the home using the technology and not the silver surfer.

Findings also show there is a certain amount of digital inclusion in the over fifties, in the case of those who are educated and have a middle to high income level. The charity Age Concern highlighted recently that pensioners are spending time online but that they are nevertheless worried as many are still excluded.

The research reveals that work, household activities including online shopping and banking and communicating with family and friends are important factors to entice silver surfers to get online but that entertainment, including downloading music and film is a low priority. The findings also reveal that technical factors including speed and an individual’s level of technical competence also affect a silver surfer’s decision to get online.

Dr Choudrie said: “Access to the internet is no longer seen as a luxury. Governments are striving hard to provide all citizens with online access, which is succeeding but to a limited extent. This research helps policy makers understand the success of initiatives at grassroots level.”

The research also explored whether local level programmes are succeeding at getting older people online. Recommendations of how to sustain programmes of training include; ensuring there are adequate labour resources in the form of volunteers willing to spare time to teach and educate the older people; a willingness to learn in the case of the users themselves; support of organisations such as Microsoft in the form of equipment-hardware and software and sustained and targeted funding.

Emma Roberts | alfa
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