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For a Special Issue on
Older adults and digital inclusion
31 August 2022
Older adults and digital inclusion
Digital transformation and demographic change are two meta processes, which influenced increasingly age and aging. Presently, the digital transformation of public and private services, such as health and social services, is one of the governmental priorities in both developed and developing countries. Governments have high hopes for digital technologies and media, and accordingly, digitalize their public administration, welfare services, and educational services. Digitalization is expected to enhance the availability of services and secure equal to access to them. Digital technologies and media have entered the workplace, too, and in in some fields, even become ubiquitous. In addition, citizens communicate to a growing extent through digital media such as the internet and social media in their everyday life. The ongoing digitalization of society is described using terms such as digital transformation, digital turn and digital leap.
However, both researchers and policy-makers have acknowledged that besides promoting digital inclusion, digitalization may have exclusionary effects for some older adults. This is because there are older adults who are unable or not willing to use the provided technologies, media and services, or use them in a manner that does not fully benefit their working, learning, well-being, everyday life, and participation in today’s digitalized society. In particular, in times of pandemics such as Covid-19, the nonuse or limited use of digital technologies and media may have severe consequences for digital and social exclusions and a risk of obsolescence and loneliness. From the perspective of developed countries, internet nonuse may seem a marginal phenomenon; but even there exists a broad digital gap in access, competencies and resources between older generations. Especially persons aged 80 years or more and older adults living in residential facilities are confronted with digital and social exclusion, even if they could benefit from smart technologies and digital inclusion.
This Special Issue focuses on older adults’ digital inclusion, which is understood,
- as the extent to which older adults in general or special segments of older persons were able to participate in digitalizing society through digital technologies, media and services.
- digital inclusion is here understood to encompass policies, practices, and research projects developed to promote, examine and evaluate older people’s participation in digitalizing society.
- digital inclusion is connected to a variety of aspects such as digital participation, digital skills, digital literacy, digital health literacy, digital empowerment, digital volunteering and digital neighborhood.
- we also welcome critical standpoints toward digitalization and ask: where are the limits of digital inclusion? what are the criteria, domains and ethical aspects for successful aging without digitalization?
Digital inclusion is closely related to the concept of the digital divide, as digital inclusion aims to close the digital divide. Previous research has revealed the complex and dynamic nature of digital divide, which can be seen to include at least three levels. The first-level digital divide refers to access to internet, the second level is related to differences in internet usage, skills, and literacies, whereas the third level divide is related to differences in individuals’ capacities to use the internet in a way that benefits their participation in society.
Older adults’ digital inclusion and exclusion have been studied within various disciplines and scientific fields such as communication and new media studies, social and cultural studies of technology, digital divide research, digital inequalities research and digital exclusion research. Existing research has produced an extensive knowledge base about various types of digital divides, older adults’ use, nonuse or limited use of digital technologies and media, and about facilitating and hindering person-related and environmental-related factors for digital inclusions. In explaining the causes and consequences of digital inequalities and exclusion, the interrelations of economic, cultural, social and personal factors have been taken into consideration. However, research evidence of the digital inclusion of the oldest age groups, older adults living in residential facilities, and older adults with physical and cognitive impairments is still scarce. Furthermore, there is need for more research on theoretical concepts and educational practices aimed at promoting older adults’ digital skills and literacies.
The aim of this Special Issue is to present and discuss recent advances of research into older adults’ digital inclusion. We welcome multidisciplinary theoretical and research papers, reviews of studies and evaluated programs or projects that explore this phenomenon from different perspectives, such as, but not limited to, the following:
- what do we know about older adults in terms of their digital inclusion, digital participation, digital skills, digital literacy, digital health literacy, digital empowerment, digital volunteering and digital neighbourhood?
- and furthermore in this context: what do we know about this aspects in specific vulnerable and social excluded older groups, such as migrants, oldest old, people with disability, residents or long term care patients?
- how do older adults and specific target groups experience digital inclusion and exclusion?
- which theoretical concepts and models (i.e. from gerontology, educational sciences, geragogy, psychology, sociology, ethnology, media and communication sciences, human interface technology) must be reflected and re-analysed in the context of digital aging and digital inclusion of very old persons?
- what kind of approaches and concepts are used and with what consequences for closing the digital divide?
- how is older adults’ digital inclusion and exclusion socially constructed, for example in policy documents, media and academic research?
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