Bridging the Generational Gap: Technology and Older Adults

Bridging the Generational Gap: Technology and Older Adults

Despite having the universe at your virtual fingertips, adapting to the ever-evolving world of technology isn’t easy for everyone. Let’s face it – the endless revolving door of upgrades and new models have a short shelf life that makes for, well…an ocean of obsolete gadgets and questions about “what’s next”. Just when we think we have a handle on the hot new thing, we have a whole new technology learning curve to navigate – a problem that, for many, has a lot to do with the attitudes, beliefs, and values that frame acknowledge technology as something that is, for better or worse, here to stay.

From a generational standpoint, sure – adolescents, tweens, teens, and twentysomethings are perhaps a product of the tech “culture”. These age groups are, for lack of a better phrase, “born into” this world that communicates, explores, and learns via the devices that pave the information highway of the 21st century. It’s safe to say that even those in their 30s and 40s are, to some extent, a byproduct of this stage of evolution. But what about the generations of people who fail to see technology as mechanism of modern survival? What if timeworn patterns of thinking and acting get in the way of their capacity to adapt? How do such people survive if they feel that the best way is “the old way”?

Despite their late entry into the technology game, evidence shows that older adults are gradually adopting technology as an important, if not vital, aspect of their day-to-day existence. A 2012 study conducted by Pew Research showed a significant “divide” between the 65 and older crowd: One group that contained educated, upwardly mobile seniors who widely embrace technology and another less-educated, socioeconomically challenged group that was considerably less apt to embrace technology. When we pause to consider this disparity, access to resources (and the perceived value of accessing them) is perhaps the bridge that spans the gap between those who embrace and reject the idea of technology as means of surviving and thriving in today’s world.

However, the Pew Research data show that the tide is gradually turning for seniors and the adoption of technology. Compared to the previous year, approximately 60% of seniors go online, close to 50% have broadband access, and over 75% use a mobile phone. However, such statistics follow a rapid downward trajectory for seniors aged 75 and older.

Despite the barriers that many people experience when dealing with technology, there’s good news. For seniors who experience physical challenges, there are a host of new, assistive technologies designed to enhance sight and sound on their devices. Also, many seniors are hard pressed to believe that technology would in any way benefit their livelihood. However, exposure to technology – from communicating with family via video chat to using one of many health monitoring apps currently available – quickly helps them to see the value. And when it’s just plain hard to learn how to use that new device or navigate that new operating system, have no fear – developers are aware of these concerns and are on a path to creating new concepts that make learning technology easier.

As older adults continue to delve further into the tech universe, one thing remains clear: Just like their younger counterparts, viewing technology as a means of gaining access to the things that promote well-being ultimately leads to its adoption. From access to information about health management to current events, technology provides a window to the world. Also, being involved in the ever growing number of social media outlets (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) helps to expand social networks and maintain a sense of connectedness to those we love. Through such realizations we come to see that technology – for people of all ages – represents less of a mountain to climb and more of a pathway to health, connectedness, and continued evolution.

Joshua M. Garrin, Ph.D., ACSM-CPT, ACE-CPT, ACE-CHC

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