Technology for later in life – our new exploration

I’m delighted that we are starting a new exploration on behalf of the Nominet Trust, into how people can use digital technologies to prepare for and enjoy later life. It’s on the same lines as our earlier work about young people and digital technology, which you can see here.
Dan Sutch of Nominet Trust explains why we are exploring this topic:

You don’t have to look far to find repeated stories of the problems facing people in later life, from access to adequate care, health and well-being and of course financial challenges. There are now more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 16.  With increased life expectancy, those we categorise as ‘older’ can span an age group that stretches from 55 years of age to 95 and above. ‘Old age’ though can describe people in good health or poor health, active, sedentary, lonely or the leaders of their communities.  With over 40 years of difference between the lower and upper ends of this age-span, this presents significant implications for not only the quality of life older people can and should expect, but for the economy at large.
It is increasingly clear that innovation in policy and practice will be needed to ensure that societies respond effectively to the challenges presented by an ageing population. But which approaches will have the most impact?
Everyday at Nominet Trust we hear stories of how digital technology is being used to address social challenges: stories of how technologies are being used to provide new forms of access or support; enabling people to undertake activities that they otherwise couldn’t be involved in, or enabling people to overcome a particular barrier or challenge.  At the same time, we’re continually looking to understand how else digital technology can be used in new ways to redesign the ways we tackle social challenges – and this is at the heart of this programme of work.
In this European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity it seems well-timed to explore how the imaginative use of digital technology can help us build a more social, active future for our growing ageing population. We believe that digital technology can offer us new, more effective approaches to build and strengthen vital social ties that will help people to remain independent and engaged in later life. Which is why we’re looking to find ways that digital technology can be used to redesign the ways in which we support older people to overcome the challenges they’re facing – and in particular we’re interested in understanding the most fertile areas for social investment and action to improve older people’s quality of life.
So with this in mind, with the help of David Wilcox et. al., we are embarking on another crowdsourced exploration. Once again, we are looking to the many organisations, individuals, researchers and actors who are active in this field, and are looking to learn from them as we develop this work. It’s one of the reasons why we’re developing this programme in the open and hope that many people will contribute and help shape a shared understanding of the opportunities for using digital technology to best support older people.

By the end of November 2012 we aim to have a provocations paper with some key messages, background resources, and a network of people who may wish to continue exploring. We are running a workshop in London on October 23, and there will be news about that shortly (Update: more info here).
To start the discussion – and invite your contributions – we have created an open Google doc which you can add to. Here’s a few of the starter messages you’ll find there.

  • Think about how technology may be useful in a wide range of situations, for different people, later in life – rather than “technology for older people”
  • Having a lifetime of experience may leave some people fixed in their ways, and others with inspiration and time for new explorations. Attitude to life may influence attitudes to technology.
  • We can use technology anytime in life to support activities for well-being, like connecting, being active, taking notice, keeping on learning and contributing. The focus later in life will be shaped by circumstances, personal interests and attitudes.
  • Long familiarity with older technologies like television may provide easy routes for using developments that extend their use. However, familiarity with mobile phones may lead to the easy adoption of tablets. Where people lack confidence, start with something they already understand.
  • The open, sharing nature of social networks may not appeal to people more used to a culture of keeping things to themselves, friends and family. On the other hand, there may be some experiences people now feel ready to share if there is trusted space to do that.
  • The challenge of making the benefits of technology easy to understand, and devices easy to use, is important for all ages. Older people may be a good place to explore what works well.

We’ll also be looking for stories of how people in later life are using digital technology for staying in touch with family, developing new interests, finding entertainment, creating videos, using smartphones and tablets. We want to explore the particular opportunities digital technology may offer – and the challenges in using it later in life.
Here’s how you can join in the exploration.

In addition, we have created an online space at our new social learning network site, kindly created by Dave Briggs. It is open to anyone interested in this field, and we hope that the network may wish to continue after the end of this exploration. View the space and join in here.
The exploration is being carried out on behalf of Nominet Trust by David Wilcox, Drew Mackie, Steve Dale and John Popham. Contact us here or just drop a comment.
  1. Hi David and co
    Have you come across the Disruptive Social Care podcasts by Shirley Ayres and Stuart Arnott? (See There are loads of great ideas and initiatives discussed which I think link to this work, and in particular Stuart Arnott’s Mindings App:
    If you contacted them, they might feature your project on a future podcast to help you reach further …
    Lorna 🙂

  2. Thanks Lorna – yes, just been talking onShirley today. Great resources and ideas!
    Thanks for your encouragement.

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