Why Europe? Problems of Culture and Identity: Volume 2: Media, Film, Gender, Youth and Education

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As a strong contrast group, we take young people, a group with a very high Internet penetration. Most of our arguments are taken from German Internet research and the discourse on the digital divide.


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It must be stressed that having access to information is not the problem but rather its interpretation and its reframing in a personal and social context. Too often the current debate equates information for knowledge. Further, there are reasons why the assumption that Internet access is a general problem solver for social and economic issues is too naive. In early Internet research, access was regarded as the focal problem.

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Being connected or disconnected to the Internet seemed to determine the knowledge gap and to create inequality. In other words: representatives of the knowledge gap research argued that more equality could be reached by the provision of better Internet access, taking for granted that due to low hardware cost everyone could participate and that participation is not restricted by inhibiting structures of the Internet e.

Research discovered rather early differences and inequality between those with access.


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  6. These differences were either explained as differences in competence ability to express oneself, cognitive differentiation, sociability etc. A set of pedagogical measures was regarded as the best way to level competence differences. In this article we present limits to the individual motivational approach, holding that access is a structural problem e. There are good reasons why they refuse to participate. Our aim is to understand these reasons and to study obstacles for access by the elderly. This was a reason to look systematically at existing literature and empirical findings.

    In the first part of this paper we take a critical view at these normative arguments. The results of our own study the housing study of elderly 65 plus dwellers had a too small database of Internet users, which made further statistical analysis impossible.

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    We rather refer to bits and pieces of studies on the elderly and the Internet. Our own research on specific technologists and Internet user groups Paul, ; Konrad and Paul, ; Stegbauer, and current research with elderly employees and dwellers of a housing company provides a background for some of our assumptions. Regarding the high vs. We conclude that the technological generation concept employed here has two consequences: a as elderly people have a different social and educational background and different learning attitudes it makes little sense to argue that participation levels will approximate in the log run; and, b peer group support is essential for the informal learning mode.

    From 70 on only a very small figure 3. Other studies mention that the elderly use the Internet at home or in specific Internet courses. As only a minority of workers in Germany work after 60 years it would make sense to look more closely at the 60 plus group. However quite a lot of the German statistics count from 65 pension age on which sets pragmatic limits for an adequate age classification.

    A differentiation of the 65 plus group, though, could refer to the idea of generations; it could follow the "technological generation" concept. Figure 1: The German population by sex and age grouped. Generations are not only marked by different educational backgrounds. Socialisation in different times creates different learning styles and approaches to technology. In a traditional sense the term "generation" refers to same experiences of age groups in different historical phases for example the 68 generation. In technology research, the phrase "technological generation" is used e.

    watch Each generation grew up with certain technical devices which influenced everyday life significantly. For all generations the phase of childhood and adolescence influenced their technology attitudes and competence significantly. We suppose that learning new technologies for each generation is dependent upon personal resources and possible migration paths to levels of the next generation.

    It is well known that young people belong to the most intensive Internet user group. This is well documented Tully, ; JIM, ; see table below. Not too many facts and figures are known about the use of the Internet among the elderly in Germany. Elderly Internet users are still not the average representatives of their age group in several social aspects: they have a purchasing power above the average, they are better educated and they have a strong learning attitude [ 5 ].

    There are at least three types of "heavy" Internet users among the population. The first group represents Internet users who perform their online activities nearly exclusively at work, often mixing corporate and private interests. A second group uses the Internet equally at work and home. We might describe these individuals as young professionals, for whom technology use is permanently part of their lifestyle. There is some evidence for a linear decrease of Internet use in all age groups [ 7 ].

    We have to keep in mind that the IT sector targets its products to the young and affluent, having in mind a trickle down model from early adopters to the broad public. Product developers do not care very much about the fact that the elderly cannot use tiny mobile telephones very well or that they are unable to decipher icons. A large number of elderly cannot read text on the screen or use a keyboard due to visual impairments or other physical or psychological handicaps. The same is true for many Internet sites. The personal computer itself is too complex and only the very enthusiastic are willing to care about new upgrades, read incomprehensible instructions and buy specialised magazines offering tips and tricks.

    As Donald Norman noted:. Elderly retirees and very young Internet users have in common that professional interests play a small role in their motivation to use the Internet. Searching for information is reported by German senior citizens as the main motivation to use the Internet; they are looking for news online magazines and specific information like product information or travel tips.

    Four out of ten elderly Internet users use the Internet for learning activities [ 9 ]. Only four percent use the Internet. Many remark that they delegate specific information searches hobbies and travel information to their children. The Internet is seen as interesting and useful but has too little to offer relative to the vital needs of the elderly.

    Generally it is very important to make a gender difference in the use of information technologies and the Internet. Based on a survey, six percent of men between 55 and 69 use the computer daily, but only two percent of women [ 10 ]. It is well known that men use the Internet more frequently and for a longer duration than women [ 11 ].

    It is well known, be it from research on computer students Neusel and Wetter, ; Zwick and Renn, ; Winkler, , or from youth and pedagogical research, that girls have a more pragmatic attitude towards computers.

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    Aggressive "shoot them all" computer games are typically used by males. From research on the young we learned that computer use and the Internet fits into different activity patterns, attributing different meanings and values to these activities. Bingham, et al. German data on computer usage at school shows only slight differences in usage pattern, but boys use computers more frequently at home 72 percent than girls 56 percent [ 14 ].

    Little is known about gender differences among elderly Internet users. We presume that the Internet interest of elderly male users is somehow influenced by their former job experiences. Web site developers assume that the Internet is largely used by young males. The majority of potential elderly users are women. This means that the majority of elderly users do not represent the target audience of young males; as a result many Internet sites do not relate to the needs of elderly women.

    Both variables correlate strongly but it is difficult to assess the defining one. This means that their levels of formal education are much lower than that in younger cohorts. Many have the lowest level of secondary education or none at all. Figure 2: Sex and lowest educational level by age. Source: Allbus, , own calculation. Only a minority of the elderly obtained some form of higher education. Tully, for example, identified five different dimensions of technology which have impacted young lifestyle: technology as an enabler of future professional chances; as symbolic capital; as means for fun and action; as an object for social distinction; and, as means to structure daily activities [ 18 ].


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    Principally the young get in touch with these technologies through trial and error and informal learning processes among peers. Social research about personal relations in our field focuses on two different concepts: 1 similar people, with common values and status attract each other see Lazarsfeld and Merton, ; Wolf, ; and, 2 the opportunity to meet people with different characteristics i. This may explain why different adoption speeds relates to age. These few Internet users lack opportunities to exchange their experiences with others, as in other generations.

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    For the young, the use of the Internet has individual and collective significance, the latter in the sense of a cultural background for communities, collective styles and values offering the possibilities to distinguish from others. At the same time the use of the Internet allows some to participate in a technology orientated "modern" lifestyle, dominated by gadgets and strong normative rules of what is "in" and what is "out.

    Even among the young there is a minority which, after a certain period of enthusiasm, withdraw from computers and the Internet. There are also quite a number of young and elderly with low skill levels who are not at all well trained to read digital information and transform it into a meaningful knowledge. The number of students who are hardly able to read or to understand even simple texts is estimated between 15 and 25 percent in Germany [ 20 ]. As reading and writing are minimal requirements in order to effectively use use search engines, these individuals are excluded.

    Pure learning by doing helps, but even if they manage to access digital information they need an intellectual effort to translate it into personal meaningful knowledge. Some research has shown that use patterns are a function of a specific personal integration of a technological object into a given lifestyle. For example, for the elderly persons and especially for women the mobile phone is regarded as a means for feeling safe, whereas for the young unlimited accessibility is highly important [ 21 ].

    As for the elderly, it is very likely that most Internet users belong to the group with an "active lifestyle" of the "household revolution" generation.

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