Digital ageism


Digital technology has transformed our daily life. Many tasks that previously had to be done in person can now be done using the smartphone. This means that growing old is no longer the same as it was 30 years ago. What does ageing mean in a more digital world?  

Digital ageing means the adoption of technology in daily lives to monitor your health, to remain in contact with your loved ones, and to use as entertainment. It means learning to use technology that is not always designed with you in mind. And in a world of data, it sometimes means invisibility. When everyday processes and actions are transformed into data to be used in analysis and prediction the older adult can be left out. This is a form of age discrimination; we call it digital ageism. It can happen due to many reasons, just to give an example, an age-limit in a survey can exclude everyone above 75. Without the data the predictions that are provided are inaccurate and can have a negative impact on the ageing population.  

The counter measure to this invisibility is not easily achieved. The ageing population is highly heterogenous, as you can imagine for a population that includes at least 3 generations. Exploring the digital ageism in the design of the datafication of daily life can help make older adults visible. Subsequently, you ensure that they receive equal opportunities and outcomes to those younger than them.  

Finally understanding digital ageism’s influence on technology acceptance of older adults is essential to ensuring full participation in a digital world. Digital ageism can be seen in data processing but also in the design of products. Technology that is not easily used while ageing can limit adoption by older adults. Think of small buttons and data inaccuracy as the algorithm is not able to correctly interpret your data. These are just two small examples of how external digital ageism can impact the older adult. Additionally internal digital ageism, thinking you are too old to use a technology, will limit your use of digital technology and will impact your digital footprint. This can in turn limit the learning ability of algorithms. When we understand ageism and its limitations, we can design initiatives that counter ageist beliefs and engage with older adults to ensure that they participate to their full ability and desire in a digital world.