Older people and digital disengagement: a fourth digital divide?

2015-03-11T13:36:52Z (GMT) by Wendy Olphert Leela Damodaran
Digital technologies are becoming more pervasive in all areas of society. Enabling everyone to have access and capability to use the Internet and associated digital technologies, summed up in the term ‘digital inclusion', is seen to have wide-ranging benefits to the individual, to the economy and to society. For older people, being digitally included can help them to maintain their independence, social connectedness and sense of worth in the face of declining health or limited capabilities, as well as also offering new opportunities to improve their quality of life. At present however, access to the technology and to the benefits is not equally distributed either between or within nations, and older people tend to be on the ‘wrong' side of what is termed the ‘digital divide'. Governments globally are developing strategies to promote digital inclusion and indeed Internet uptake is increasing steadily, including amongst older people. However, such strategies have focussed on getting people online, and there appears to be an assumption that once someone is online they will remain ‘digitally engaged'. In fact statistics show that some users give up using the Internet, and there is emerging evidence that older people are more vulnerable to the factors which can lead to this outcome. The authors see this phenomenon as a potential but largely unrecognised ‘fourth digital divide' which has serious implications for social inclusion. The objectives of this article are (a) to raise awareness of the phenomenon of digital disengagement by considering some of the emerging evidence, (b) to explore some of the potential implications of not recognising and therefore not addressing the needs of the digitally disengaged older population, and (c) to reveal the prevailing gap in knowledge which future research should address.