Older adults are wary of the Internet, a worry for agencies committed to their wellbeing: seniors are outpacing younger generations in the population, gaining influence and economic clout in the process. The concern may soon be superfluous. Usability engineers are on the track of ergonomic measures to create a better fit between older users and technology, and time is proving to be a natural ally.
The wariness is well documented in the United States and Britain. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has funded one of the most quoted studies on aging and technology, “Older Americans and the Internet.” It reported that 22 percent of Americans 65 and older used the Internet in 2004. By contrast, 58 percent age 50-64, 75 percent of 30-49 year-olds, and 77 percent of 18-29 year-olds went online in the same year. “Most seniors live lives far removed from the Internet, know few people who use email or surf the Web, and cannot imagine why they would spend money and time learning how to use a computer,” the report concluded.
A 2005 study shows even more wariness in the United Kingdom. Only 14 percent of men and 8 percent of women in the over-65 group use the Internet there, according to Nichola Adams, the co-author of the 2005 study, “Psychological Barriers to Internet usage among older adults in the UK.” Dr. Adams added that use of the Internet decreases steadily with age.
The wariness and reluctance to use the Internet appear anomalous because older adults have much to gain from living more of their life in cyberspace. In an interview for The Ergonomics Report
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2005-05-18.