Online shopping, online gaming or reading a newspaper online – in Germany, 86% of people are regularly online. But how do we imagine the person looking at the screen right now? Stereotypically between 14 and 40 years old, right? It’s true, the majority of Internet users tend to be young, but studies have had the same tenor for years: the older generations are catching up. And they’re more curious than we think.
Online shopping, online gaming or reading a newspaper online – in Germany, 86% of people are regularly online. But how do we imagine the person looking at the screen right now? Stereotypically between 14 and 40 years old, right? It’s true, the majority of Internet users tend to be young, but studies have had the same tenor for years: the older generations are catching up. And: They are more curious than assumed.
Most people in Germany are open and receptive to technology and digital trends. A 2019 study by the EU Commission shows: 80% of Germans store online, 70% read news online and 57% manage their banking affairs digitally. So it’s only a matter of time before “silver surfers” also surf, comment and shop on the World Wide Web as a matter of course. But there is still a lot of support to be provided until that point is reached. After all, digitization must first be viewed through the eyes of people over the age of 65. Only then can we enable digital participation that lasts as long as possible and is self-determined. Digitization must also promote curiosity. It is therefore about empowerment. Older people are not passive individuals who have to be taken care of by their social and digital environment. Instead, they can be active participants who can shape the Internet with confidence.
What are the reasons for offliners or users who are rarely online?
In the federally funded study “How digital is Germany?” by Initiative D21, around three-quarters of respondents who had never been online said they were basically uninterested in the Internet. So far, so good. A third also said they found the Internet too complicated. They also said that the additional effort involved in acquiring a digital identity was not an obvious benefit. Instead, most would rely on the assistance and online presence of friends and family.
For us at memoresa, who have made the digitization of a very analog field our professional task, statements like this sound like a circumstance that we do not want to accept in this way. If people distance themselves from digital solutions, engage in digital detox or simply have a critical perspective on digitization, then that is their right and nothing to be doubted. But if it can be gleaned from such study results that some do not even bother because they feel overwhelmed and do not experience any support on the website, then that does not sound like self-determination and free choice.
The evaluation of all services used, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, shows a clear picture: While people between 14 and 29 are overrepresented, those over 65 are less active than average. Reasons for fear of contact can be: The intuitive design and logical structure are not consistently present on many websites. Still 58% of those surveyed said that they acquire their Internet skills independently and primarily through trial and error. In order not to have to assume this, there are various supports.
Why do older people misunderstand websites that seem perfectly clear to others?
Most lack concrete examples of how they can integrate the Internet into their everyday lives. So you have to give them clear advantages that they don’t have in the analog version. In addition, “silver surfers” need more support in using it. How can I communicate with my generation and the younger generation? What do I have to watch out for, and what kind of information is available to me on the Internet? Internet-savvy users have an answer to these questions in a matter of seconds. For older people, however, these questions need to be answered differently.
The acquisition of technical competence is characterized both by everyday use of technology and by the conscious learning of new skills. Daily interaction with technology socializes people with specific modes of functioning and use. The use of technical devices and programs is always influenced by the technical progress one grows up with. One can speak of technology generations. This concept means that users develop routines in their technical practices, repeat them regularly and then adopt them in everyday life. Central influencing factors here can be modern mass technologies at the time, individual access to them and the experiences gained with them. These routines shape a person throughout his or her life. With every new technological development or expansion, people fall back on the wealth of knowledge they have gained so far.
If you keep these circumstances in mind, you gain a different perspective on the sluggishness of older people with regard to the acquisition of technologies.
Interactive menu navigation, as we find it on almost every website, has a different operating logic than older linear programmed applications. When developing websites or applications that are to be usable across generations and intuitively, one has to take a closer look at these existing routines and usage habits.
We need more data sovereignty and technology competence!
Digitality is one of the most comprehensive developments that we are currently experiencing and that will accompany us for the next decades. Being able to navigate the web with digital competence means modern self-determination. This should not stop at age. Whether digital native or digital migrant – if data flows and storage are transparent so that older people can understand them, then everyone can benefit. Because regardless of age: everyone must make an effort to actively keep up with technical developments and be able to keep track of their long-term consequences. No one knows automatically – sovereignty and competence come from knowledge and application.
But what does data sovereignty mean for us? Sovereignty includes on the one hand a media-competent self-image of the surfers and on the other hand the sensitivity for possible dangers and implications that arise due to the digital exchange of information. Sovereignty means promoting media competence and managing one’s personal data.
In addition to data sovereignty, there is another: technical competence. Why are these two qualities so desirable? We are in the midst of a development toward a digital society. A sovereign approach to data and technology includes not only access to knowledge, but also social participation, maturity and virtual representation.
Many democratizing processes now take place digitally. People therefore need a certain degree of technical competence and data sovereignty in order to participate in and help shape social participation. People must be able to communicate their own needs and grievances digitally. This creates a better understanding between the generations. Independence on the Net also means self-confidence in the analog. Digital desires become analog necessities. Our mission is to help older people become actors in digitization.
The aim is not to ignore or minimize skepticism and fear, but to make technology palatable as an assistant to the digital society. Older people are curious about technology and want to learn about its advantages. We don’t want to quench this curiosity, but to spur it on. How do you do that? The answer is across the generations: deduce knowledge yourself and design things yourself. Technical competence should be acquired in a playful and active way. After all, having fun is a good way to counter competence anxiety and digital overload.
How we deal with it
It can all seem a bit overwhelming up to this point. It’s also a big responsibility and definitely requires the ability to see the world through the eyes, or rather glasses, of others. The important thing is to always try and never stop trying to improve usability and take any feedback, whether from social or users, equally seriously. Applications such as embedded help boxes, links to central FAQ pages and interactive arrows can already have a big impact.