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We tried to show that knowledge gap and digital divide discourses implicitly foster the myth of a technological driven social development. In this vein the elderly are obstacles for the rapid development of the Information Society, which promises to remove social barriers and provide a variety of e-based services. Concerns for increases in the digital divide between generations must be taken seriously but they still have a normative base (taking for granted that everyone has to use the Internet which per se has a positive value).

Having access to information is not the problem but rather its interpretation and its reframing in a personal and social context. Too often the current debate equates information for knowledge.

Our aim is to understand these reasons and to study obstacles for access by the elderly. This may explain why different adoption speeds relates to age. Both the “pre-technological” and the “household revolution” generation did not have the same opportunities to find support among Internet-skilled friends, because their friends had no experience and there are only a few enthusiastic about the Internet. These few Internet users lack opportunities to exchange their experiences with others, as in other generations.

The diffusion rate among the elderly is increasing, but will continue to lag behind the figures of the young users. Cultural preparations and easy access modes are essential for the elderly, who could make use of latecomer advantages. Informal learning and peer group support will be crucial for the diffusion of the Internet among the elderly.

Pure learning by doing helps, but even if they manage to access digital information they need an intellectual effort to translate it into personal meaningful knowledge. For the young, the use of the Internet has individual and collective significance, the latter in the sense of a cultural background for communities, collective styles and values offering the possibilities to distinguish from others. At the same time the use of the Internet allows some to participate in a technology orientated “modern” lifestyle, dominated by gadgets and strong normative rules of what is “in” and what is “out.” This strong technological lifestyle group, though, as it is demonstrated in the Deutsche Shell youth study, represents only a minority of well-educated male high school students [19]. Even among the young there is a minority which, after a certain period of enthusiasm, withdraw from computers and the Internet.

  • We use survey material and field impressions we gained in various technology related studies.
  • Our objective is to refer to taken for granted normative assumptions of the digital divide discourse, highlighting different requirements for the appropriation of the Internet.
  • A lot depends on the instructor’s image of the elderly.

The answer is through both informal and formal learning. Computer-learning and the knowledge acquisition of modern technologies is per se informal learning.

Survey data was either used from the “cyberatlas” (former “NUA”) and other information services (like “nrw-media”) or was found online at special statistical data sources in Germany, provided by Social Science Institutions (ZUMA Mannheim, Zentralarchiv Köln, Deutsches Zentrum für Altersforschung Berlin). Our own research on specific technologists and Internet user groups (Paul, 1989; Konrad and Paul, 1999; Stegbauer, 2001) and current research with elderly employees and dwellers of a housing company provides a background for some of our assumptions. Technological optimists would argue that growing user figures among the elderly Internet-user group seem to indicate that the non-user problem will sooner or later disappear.

On the one hand, these barriers can be removed via peers of younger informal or professional supporters. On the other hand having the means and training to access the Internet might become more important, presuming that the development of public (like e-government) and other Internet-based services increases rapidly.

Most of our arguments are taken from German Internet research and the discourse on the digital divide. It might be the case – given a current controversial discussion about the “burden” of the elderly – that a new definition of “generation” might be more appropriate. Rosenmayr’ definition of “generation” is a “polarisation of interests of age related large groups which mutually allocate and deny each-others resources” [30]. This would mean that inclusion rhetoric is good for economically sound times; when it comes to periods of stagnation and crisis only appeals to self-help or the invocation of the market to provide courses would remain. The “silvermedia” experience shows that there is a potential for age-specific courses and for low-level introductory courses.

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