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Older people and their use of the internet

Considering the directions in which activity and policy should move to ensure that as many older people as possible become successful internet users

Gentleman outside the pub with his laptop

If we start from a general assumption that the internet has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on society, and that access to the internet is regarded as a utility – or in some circles, a basic human right – in the same way as access to clean water and a reliable supply of power – then we should assume that this positive impact is one that should be shared across society. This is particularly so for those groups at the greatest risk of social exclusion and financial hardship.

One of the great paradoxes of the emergence of the internet as a change for social good is that it can also easily lead to increased social exclusion. The widely accepted social and financial benefits that the internet can offer as a nearly-ubiquitous communication medium are denied to those members of society who do not use, or cannot use, the internet. This is recognised by the Manifesto for a Networked Nation 2010 – the policy document setting out an argument and supporting strategy encouraging more UK citizens to become internet users, produced by Martha Lane Fox, the Government-appointed Digital Champion. In this Manifesto, the particular challenge of engaging and supporting groups at most risk of exclusion – including older people – is recognised, and some recommendations are made to address this challenge through activities that inspire, support and reward engagement with the internet.

This report has been written to complement the State of the Art Literature Review on Older People and the Internet, commissioned by Nominet Trust and published in October 2011. We have been particularly motivated to consider directions in which activity and policy should move in order to help ensure that as many older people as possible can become successful internet users. To help reflect on our own experiences of working in the field of older people and ICT and to distil these experiences into the opinions expressed in this report, we spoke to over 15 older technology users of varying levels of experience. We make no attempt to present this consultation as engaging with a representative sample of older people, but instead use this engagement to provoke our own thoughts into the directions where research and policy might best be headed. We also spoke to a number of senior research colleagues working in the same field, and while their views are reflected in some of the content of this report, ultimately what we present is our own articulation of the challenges we face and the directions we can take.