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WebWise news report - smartphones and the older generation

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 14:12 UK time, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Research from the University of Cambridge suggests that technology is 'failing to empower an aging society'.

Emporia Telecom, a company that manufactures and sells mobile phones for the 60+ generation, commissioned the study, which shows that only 1 in 20 people over 65 use a smartphone, despite smartphones making up 67% of all UK mobile phone sales. According to the research, the complex functionality on smartphones is of little or no interest to older users.

But do these statistics indicate the older generations aren't using smartphones because of accessibility, education or culture?

My 70 year old grandmother got connected five years ago and has already dramatically surprised me with her texting speed, but culturally there needs to be a huge shift for her to ever be caught at the dinner table playing Angry Birds on a smartphone. However, if she knew that more traditional games were available digitally and on a handheld device, she might just be glad of something else to do while my grandfather dozes infront of the rugby.

Social media on smartphones may benefit people with limited mobility as one can catch up easily with friends and family and may even help tackle feelings of loneliness and disconnection and although some smartphone apps are evidently more suited to certain age groups, it would be naive to suppose that none of them are relevant to older users. Maps, train times, local attractions may all prove useful if only people were fully aware of the range of functionality. Comments on The Telegraph website, indicate that some older mobile phone users know many such services are available and would not be fazed by accessing them, they simply just don't need them.

Despite varying attitudes towards smartphones and tablets, the study raises an important question. Should we be simplifying and narrowing technology for older generations, or should we be finding ways of making the full functionalities more accessible and appealing?

Looking at a range of handsets designed for older users, feature lists seem somewhat stripped back. Technology with accessible features definitely sells, but I don’t see why this has to be at the cost of functionality.

Accessibility software is already revolutionising technology for disabled users and the site Mobile Accessibility was launched this year as part of an initiative to help disabled and elderly people compare mobile phones by the features they need.

It's right to try to bring the country up to a basic standard when it comes to using technology, but with 91% of the UK already using mobile phones, once we've engaged the other 9%, the next step is surely to help people get the most out of them.

Just because a particular demographic isn't using certain forms of technology, it doesn't necessarily follow that they shouldn't be encouraged to do so. If there is a generation gap in technology I think it risks being increased if we think that the only solution is to take people back ten years.

Read Hajar's previous blog explaining what is meant by the term 'smartphone'.


Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.


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