How do older people use the internet? Easy, right? They don’t—or do they? (They being me.) We have often been told that seniors are Luddites who avoid using email and smartphone apps and online games and Skype and blogs and social media and other digital technology. But hang on, even if that used to be true, is it still true?
At last we have up-to-date information about how older people use the internet in New Zealand, and it’s mighty interesting. At Partners’ Day before NetHui NZ, we got a preview of several research studies, including the findings of Miriam Lips, Professor of Digital Government (Victoria University of Wellington School of Government) and her team.
Every slide got me thinking, and I’m looking forward to a full report being published next month.
Meanwhile, let’s think about this one slide and its implications. First I’ll provide a text version below, because, alas, I suspect many of you have trouble reading pale text on a cream background. (People of all ages struggle with low-contrast text. That’s not news, by the way. Sigh.)
Description of the slide: Older people using the internet and other technology
First a paragraph explaining why it’s worth researching this topic:
Technology presents an opportunity to improve the lives of older people—improving health care and connections with family and friends. Conversely, those who do not have digital tools or do not have access to technology are unable to realise its benefits.
Now to the nitty gritty—2019 data about the level of internet usage in New Zealand residents of various age groups:
Internet usage by age
- Under 65: over 97% use the internet
- 65–74: 90% use the internet
- 75–84: 75% use the internet
- 85 and older: only 50% use the internet
A plunge in internet usage after the age of 75
There’s hardly any drop in internet usage between people 65–74 and younger people. Then suddenly in the next ten years, the gap doubles from 7% to 15%. And among those 85 and older, usage plunges by 25%.
Doubtless the full report will explain these figures legitimately. Meanwhile here are my own conclusions, or rather, hypotheses.
When it comes to using the internet and other technology, we’d better stop thinking of people in their 60s and mid-70s as old. Their habits are similar to those of younger people. And 10 years from now, that may well be true of people in their eighties. We shall see.
Why are the stats changing? I assume for two reasons:
- Changes in human life span and health span. Most of us are healthy and fit for much longer than people used to be.
- Changes in the workplace. A few decades back, the whole world was internet-free. Outside of work, people could take their time stating to use the internet, but at work it soon became mandatory.
When the internet entered the workplace in 1996:
- Today’s 65-year-olds were 42. (I think. Please check my arithmetic.) Using the internet is a habit they’re unlikely to drop.
- Today’s 75-year-olds were 52. Maybe they had to use the internet at work, maybe not.
- Today’s 85-year-olds were 62. Many could avoid ever learning to use the internet at work. Digital technology was not part of their working life, so getting the necessary motivation, knowledge and skills will naturally be more difficult for them. And… they’re older, more likely to have less functional movement, hearing and eyesight, which obviously makes internet use more difficult.
Lots to think about in one small dose of data! I look forward to the full report from Professor Lips’ team on this aspect of digital government: how older people use the internet, and how to help those who would benefit from it.