Digital ageing: How seniors can appreciate the benefits and avoid the pitfalls of a digitalizing society.

While teenagers and young adults consider digital devices and the constant connection to the digital world an essential element of their daily lives, for many older people digitalization still feels troublesome. The overarching theme for this SBO-project (in cooperation with VUB-partners BAS & SMIT and CPFH of UAntwerp) is the question of how a good life for older people in the digitalizing society is possible. The most obvious barrier that prevents many older people from digital inclusion today is their level of digital literacy. While some technical aspects of digital literacy are preconditions for digital inclusion, the focus of this project is the “good life” for older people in digital society, hence a focus on the digital skills needed to manage everyday errands and activities as well as the online aspects of social life. We want to study how the ubiquity of digital tools and devices has shaped and can improve the life of older people.

The project is organized in four themes.

Theme 1: Digital profiles of older people  

Accounting that older people form a heterogeneous group, the goal is to develop a new typology of the diverse digital profiles of older people based on digital literacy, risk factors, age, interests, and other variables. We study how Flemish seniors spend their time online, for what purposes, with which difficulties and barriers for non-users. We will examine which profiles have which needs. One goal of this theme is to match the diverse needs with the available digital training offers for older people in Flanders. What kind of offers are there, how are they organized, and how do they succeed in addressing barriers to digital literacy?


Theme 2: Innovative digital inclusion

We address the innovation of digital inclusionin twofold ways. On the one hand, we want to investigate how digital training for older people works best. Depending on needs, pre-skills, interests and social network, different seniors require different sorts of digital literacy. The goal is to compile knowledge and experiences of current training programs into innovative learning methods. On the other hand, we anticipate that technological solutions (social & care robots, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence) will take key roles in the elderly care sector. The goal is to develop and investigate innovative methods to prepare older people with new digital technologies in an enjoyable way that succeeds to raise interest in and decrease anxiety about technology.


Theme 3: Social connectedness

For many people of all ages, large parts of their social life takes place through digital means. Being active on digital platforms offers ways to keep contact with family and friends as well as to engage in new social contexts, transgressing local and cultural boundaries. We want to study how and under what circumstances the internet can help fulfilling the social needs of older people and reduce isolation. What are the limits of digitally mediated communication, and how does this affect older people? What are the most beneficial ways of using social media, messenger apps and other communication tools, and what are typical socio-emotional and technical pitfalls for older people? The social distancing rules during the corona-pandemic only aggravated the salience of the issue of social connectedness via digital means.


Theme 4: Ageism

When older people assume society’s negative perception of age and ageing, they often consider their efforts to become digitally literate as futile  (technology anxiety, resistance, resignation). Such internalized ageism can reduce self-efficacy, lower the perceived usefulness of digital technology, and reduce their will to adopt technology. That is why a central goal is to examine how this internalized ageism can be countered or overcome. Theme 4 also deals with the prevalence of latent and overt ageism in current Flemish digital services that are often designed for a younger or generic audience without taking potential special needs and wishes of older people into account.