Silver surfers promise golden years for ICT industry

25 Aug 2010

Youth-oriented segments of the ICT industry are missing a key trick and are losing out on the lucrative spending power of the more mature silver surfers.

Speaking at the launch of a new website Maureen Kavanagh, chief executive of the organisation, said computer use amongst older people was increasing on a yearly basis, and that huge opportunities exist for the ICT industry to connect with older customers.

“According to CSO data, about one third of those aged between 50 and 64 use computers and the internet regularly,” she said.

Future Human

“The usage rates are lower amongst those aged over 65, but – at the same time – this age group is starting to embrace new technologies and recognise the value of using the internet. And, as Ireland’s population ages, the proportion of older people who regularly use the internet will continue to increase.

“Research shows that older people tend to use ICT for practical and useful purposes, for example to book tickets, make travel arrangements or avail of Government and other services. Benefits cited by those who regularly use the internet include increased access to information and being able to buy or book services and products online.

“However, there is definitely room for improvement – both in terms of encouraging more people to start using computers, and making things easier and more accessible for those who are already doing so. Given that the ‘silver’ market is becoming increasingly important to all sectors, Active Retirement Ireland would strongly encourage ICT companies and service-providers to become more savvy about what exactly it is that their older customers want.”

Research* published last year showed that negative attitudes to computers were prevalent amongst older people who did not use ICT. Over half of those not currently using a computer felt that they were too difficult to learn to use, while one third of non-users said they could never afford to get a computer. 

“We need to tackle negative attitudes and misperceptions, and show older people that using computers does not have to be hard,” said Kavanagh.

“The ICT sector has a very important role to play in this: it is in their own best interests to demonstrate to older people how easy and beneficial it can be to get a computer and go online. They need to be more proactive in ensuring their products and services are understood by – and attractive to – older segments of the population, and that they are available to them at affordable prices.

“The industry only needs to take simple steps to make itself more relevant to older people, for example using plain English descriptions of products; avoiding sectoral abbreviations and acronyms, and providing practical demonstrations of how various products work. It is important to remember that some older people have never even turned on a computer, so – when explaining a product or service to them – you may need to start with the basics.”

A 2008 study conducted by Age UK – an organisation with which Active Retirement Ireland works closely through the AGE Platform Europe – showed that there were certain circumstances that could trigger use of the internet amongst older people who hadn’t ever used it before. Examples included taking up a specific interest or hobby, entering retirement, relatives moving abroad, becoming housebound, or losing a partner.

Active Retirement Ireland ran a tailor-made training programme for its members last year, aimed at giving a simple introduction to computers and the internet.

Under the programme – which was funded by the BenefIT grants scheme at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – 115 members of Active Retirement Associations received ‘train the trainer’ tuition in ICT skills, and went on to train a further 10 members in each of their respective associations. Over 1,000 older people gained basic computer skills as a result.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years