By Erica Zaiser
For most of us, technology has become an integral part of our daily routine. We use computers to send email, find old friends on Facebook, share photos, and keep up with our favorite blogs. Nonetheless, some people find it difficult to keep up with new lingo, gadgets, and programs that have become a staple of our workplace and home. In particular, many elderly people are struggling to keep up with our increasing reliance on technology. However, technological advances could have potential benefits on our ever-growing older demographic. Elderly people facing limited mobility could gain greater independence through technology and it has also been suggested that surfing the Internet can boost brain function.
In the recent issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Charness and Boot (2009) review evidence that although some older people may have a strong interest in using new technology, other factors like computer education, computer anxiety, and decreased cognitive functioning may impair their ability or desire to understand new technology. Furthermore, there are natural life-span changes in motivations that may make elderly interest in and use for technological advances different from the young. The authors argue that social psychologists can and should assist those who design technology in creating products which both appeal to the elderly and take into account their changing cognitive capabilities.
The BBC reported on the development of a new computer using a desktop interface that is designed to simplify the computing experience for the elderly. The hope is that this type of system will encourage elderly people to use the Internet and increase their computer-confidence. This seems like a step in the right direction, although, as Boot and Charness point out, we may never be able to completely close the technology gap between the young and old. This is because people tend to prefer technology they grew up with to those made available late in their lives. Since technology is rapidly changing, we may always be more resistance to trying new technology as we get older, no matter how much it caters to our specific needs.