Older Australians are using digital technology more often but their levels of discomfort with it have also risen, a new report reveals.
The report by National Seniors Australia, a not-for-profit advocacy organisation for older Australians, compared the results of a 2018 survey of 5466 seniors with a repeat survey of 5430 seniors in 2021.
The participants were aged over 50 and most of them completed the survey online, suggesting that both groups were relatively digitally literate.
Increase in digital engagement
Compared to the 2018 survey, the digital engagement of participants increased in the 2021 survey, beginning with the devices used to complete the survey.
“Fewer people completed the 2021 survey on desktop or laptop computers than the 2018 survey and more completed it using mobile phones,” the report says.
The proportion of people aged over 70 who used a mobile phone to complete the survey doubled and the proportion of people aged over 80 who used a tablet increased from 11 per cent to 19 per cent.
The 2021 survey also asked participants to write down apps that they used and approximately 600 participants responded, with a total of 400 apps listed.
Decrease in comfort levels
However, despite this increase, the 2021 survey found that the average comfort levels of older Australians with a range of digital activities has decreased.
This concerned activities such as using self-checkouts at the supermarket, ATMS and resolving minor issues with technical devices.
According to comments from participants, this was rarely related to reduced technological ability or confidence.
“It was more often a measure of discomfort with the ethical and social implications of digital technologies, such as job losses resulting from the introduction of self-checkouts and ATMs,” the report said.
Rapid pace of technology
According to the report, the rapid pace of technological change is making it difficult for older people to keep up.
The lack of assistance available to help people navigate these problems has also decreased, it said.
“This is because businesses and governments are generally moving away from providing live, in-person, expert assistance, and towards providing pre-produced information,” the report said.
Information is often provided through frequently asked questions websites and non-human or bot help services.
The survey found that more older Australians now believe there is a generational divide in the digital realm.
In the 2018 survey, three-quarter of participants said generations use digital services differently, however, in the 2021 survey, almost everyone agreed with that sentiment (76 per cent rose to 95 per cent).
“Some survey participants commented on this, for example noting that younger people tend to help and learn from each other when using digital technologies while older people do not,” the report said.
“This perception of generational difference – whether it reflects digital realities or not – can make older people feel less digitally competent than they actually are.”
Impact of pandemic
The frequency with which older Australians used basic digital services also increased, including web browsing, accessing government services online and sending text messages.
This was mostly brought about by the pandemic, according to the report.
“Over 150 survey participants in 2021 also reported increased use of video streaming services such as Netflix, ABC iView and SBS On Demand since the advent of COVID.
“Others noted that their use of digital technologies for communicating with people and networks had increased in frequency since COVID.”
Older Australians’ ability to perform a range of digital activities at a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ level has also increased markedly between the two surveys.
These activities included emailing, finding information online and doing internet banking.
“The largest increase the study was able to measure was in people’s good or excellent ability to use a smart phone, which increased from 49 per cent of survey participants in 2018 to 63 per cent in 2021,” the report said.
“Over 120 people also commented that they had learned how to use video calling technologies such as Zoom and Teams during COVID.”
Appetite for technology
According to the report, many older Australians have an appetite for technology.
“Our report shows older Australians are hungry for technologies that support their lifestyles if they are taken seriously as digital consumers and their needs properly understood.
“When the technology is designed well, is affordable and works, older Australians enjoy the new experiences, information, assistance, opportunities and sheer fun that digital technologies can bring.”