Eliminating the Digital Divide

July 18, 2017

By Garima Goswami

Devices and features are not always designed keeping seniors in mind, but with more and more older adults becoming tech-savvy, designers are beginning to create products in alignment with their understanding and requirements. 

Technology has drastically transformed present day lives by rooting itself in our homes, offices and social settings. In the course of one generation only, technology has taken a phenomenal leap in innovation and usage, therefore an inclusive integration of various demographics is crucial to ensure an all rounded growth of our society. Senior adults are one such demographic that are benefitting from this migration to the tech world, however, with a bit of support and assistance we can bag a wider cohort of their population that for various reasons faces a disconnect with technology. 

“There is a stereotypical view that older people don’t like change and are technophobic. This is not the case. There are many seniors who I have spoken to personally who are very tech-savvy and interested in the latest gadgets and apps,” says Dr. Andrew Sixsmith, Scientific Director at AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, and professor in the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University. Statistically, the gap between technology users that are seniors and those under the age of 65, is definitely wide but what’s promising is a keen interest and fascination on the part of many older people with technology. So what is it that constitutes the digital divide and how can we resolve it? Elaborating on the matter, Dr. Sixsmith says “this is probably more due to financial reasons than just their age; older people are often amongst the poorest sections of the population.” 

The continuous upgradation of technology means users have to be actively immersed to enhance their experience and exposure, and its rapid transformation might appear to be a gruelling task for seniors and others to cope with. Barriers such as language and factors such as psychological and physical, can further accentuate the digital divide. “We need to make technologies easier to use – for example, with simpler control or even by speaking to your computer. We also need to provide training and support to seniors who may not have much experience in using technology,” suggests Dr. Sixsmith. 

Wearable technologies, online applications and games such as Lumosity empower seniors to independently monitor their health and daily lifestyle such as sleeping pattern and heart rate. However, a significant portion of the population still remains disconnected. “The world we live in has primarily been designed by younger people for younger people, whether this is the cities and buildings we live in or the everyday technologies we use,” clarifies Dr. Sixsmith. Often, technology comes overloaded with several functions and complicated interfaces, lacking inclusivity of various demographics. Devices and features are not always designed keeping seniors in mind, but with more and more older adults becoming tech-savvy, designers are beginning to create and mould products in alignment with their understanding and requirement. 

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