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Introduction and research summaries

Exploring the potential of digital technology in later life

This paper explores how we can use and develop digital technologies to prepare for and enjoy later life. It brings together past research, and the results of a wide-ranging process to gather experience and ideas from those in the field, undertaken through a workshop and online discussion. We hope the paper and background resources will be useful to anyone seeking to develop projects, and also help those working in the field to see what others are doing. One of the key finding from our exploration was that thinkers, those in support services, and the technically adept were not well connected. We hope this paper will help create some shared understanding.

We have used the term digital technology later in life rather than simply older people using digital technology because a strong messages is that older isnt a very useful perspective on its own. The ways that people from 55 to 90-plus may use technology is very diverse - and has far more to do with their personal interests and circumstances than their age.

However, in some ways the lessons in designing and using digital technology are similar to those earlier in life. For example, in comparing our findings with those from the Digital Edge exploration into young people using technology we identified the importance of starting where people are at; co-designing with users; and encouraging peer-to-peer support.

Differences in the use of technology in later life do, of course, arise because as we get older we may be less able mentally or physically; we may have different experiences that inform how we address new learning opportunities, and may not have used technology in education or work in ways that are becoming the norm for younger people.

We may be unwilling to share personal information and activities with strangers on social networks, be anxious about the security of our data - or simply wary of handling computers and digital devices. There are real barriers and challenges - of which perhaps the greatest is the point? And one benefit of age is the wisdom to resist its good for you.

So if we do believe that there are benefits in helping people use digital technology later in life, we have to recognise that as we get older we may be different in far more ways than we are the same. We have different life histories, families, friends and interests that we have developed along the way and thats where the opportunities arise, if we are prepared to realise them. Julia Unwin CBE, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, writing about Why we must celebrate - not ignore ageing, said:

  • we need to hear from people who are themselves older, understand their very different experiences, and start to think much more honestly, and much more creatively, about the ways in which we want to shape a good old age, both for ourselves as individuals and as society.
  • An ageing society can be one that values difference, and recognises the very rich and different contribution that we will all be able to make. An ageing society can be one that uses all the skills, experience and talents of all of us as we age. It would recognise that older age is not only about loss, there are rewards and excitement too. It would therefore be a society that is better for all of us. It would be one in which frailty is no longer equated with powerlessness, dependence no longer seen as weakness. If we start to see growing old as an important and natural transition in our own lives, we will also be able to build a society that makes this transition in a just, considered and creative way. Such a society will be able to respond to the changing needs of all parts of its population, without hiding behind lazy stereotypes and prejudice. It will structure policies and practice that meet the needs of real people, not just imagined nightmares.

While Julia Unwins analysis is not specifically about the role that technology can play, it sets the tone for the approach that we are advocating here - using later life as a lens through which to review what sort of life any of us would wish for - and the ways in which technology can help.

While acknowledging the continuing challenge of digital inclusion - providing online access and support - we are not primarily concerned here with how to achieve government aims to achieve digital by default in the use of public services. We do however look at some of the issues this raises for individuals, and hope that insights from the exploration will open additional ways to engage people with digital technology.

Nor have we sought to cover the substantial field of telecare, and the means by which technologies can help those of us who are becoming frail remain longer in our homes. The issues of how care services can better use digital technology is the subject of a paper by Shirley Ayres, published by Nominet Trust: Can online innovations enhance social care? The main focus here is on how individuals might best use digital technology later in life; how friends, relatives and others can help; the importance of learning together and how the social uses of technology are particularly valuable.

Technology in Later Life: The good, the bad, the frustrating and the exhilarating

The forum on Gransnet, set up and summarised by Geraldine Bedell for our exploration, brought alive the day to day experience of older people using technology: the good, the bad, the frustrating and the exhilarating. These experiences and the issues they raise have been reviewed in light of wider consultation and future research and are distilled here into 10 provocations that can act as talking points and possibly as a focus for project development and investment. The reference material for each of these is provided for further information and deeper exploration.

But provoking new ideas isnt sufficient if we are to develop better ways to support the use of digital technology in later life. There is so much excellent work to build on that in addition to these provocations we have developed some themes that are important to consider in responding to these challenges. Its only a start though. Indeed there are many other themes that could be developed because we found the exploration to be more about technology and life, than technology for older people.

Reference for this introduction on Storify - and embedded below\ Key research findings and other references on Storify - and embedded below\ View the story “Introduction: exploring digital technology in later life” on Storify\ View the story “Key findings and reference for technology for later in life” on Storify

dtlater/introduction.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 15:20 (external edit)