Elderly Person who doesn’t want email

I am currently surveying people over the age of 60 about their use of information communication technologies and this has resulted in talking with some interesting people with challenging ideas.

On the weekend, I met with a retired man in his sixties, who is intelligent, financially independent and owns his home. Following a life in business, he made a conscious decision to not have a computer at home, but occasionally visits the local library when he wants to use the web. He basically finds the web hard to use and, perhaps not surprising, feels overwhelmed by the advertisements and a lot of what he described as, “irrelevant content that just makes it harder to find what I want“.

This person also firmly believes that the delivery of government information and services by the more traditional media has declined since the arrival of the web and continues to decline. A few years ago, he told me, you could ring up a government department with a question and it was very likely that either the first or second person you spoke to would be able to provide the answer. In contrast today, he said the standard response from everyone is, “all the information is on our website“.

Recently, this man had to do some building work on his property and rang the relevant government department to see what was required. He was told that as a first step he had to fill in a particular form that was available on the web. He told the person on the phone that he didn’t have a computer and only used the web occasionally so this would be difficult. The department representative didn’t offer to send out the form or take the information over the phone, but advised him to go to the library or an internet cafĂ© and fill in the form online.

So, he went to the library and eventually found the form on the department website. Part way through the form he was required to provide an email address. This was a mandatory field and it was not possible to complete the form without entering an address. Not to be put off, he used his mobile (cell) phone to contact a friend, who he knew had an email address, and entered that person’s address into the form. But, as he told me, “The government know who I am and where I live so why should I have to have one of those addresses or an electronic identity to fill in one of their forms?

For us who work with the web all the time it is very easy to forget that there are some people who choose not to participate in the online world. And, there are others who for physical, cognitive, geographical or financial reasons don’t even have a choice. As more and more services are delivered online, I think it is imperative that this move to the virtual world does not disenfranchise those who remain offline, those who live only in the real world.

If you are over 60 and would like to participate in this survey please go to the Survey of Mature Age Internet Users on this blog.

I will be talking about this research project into the hows and whys of information technology use by mature-age people in a presentation at CSUN 2011.


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