Debunking Myth 3 : Older People Consider Computers as Useless and Unnecessary

As with the other myths, this statement should not be overgeneralized. While there are some very active and engaged older computer users (the so-called ‘silver surfers’), the majority of older people simply do not know how computer technology could support their everyday activities. Many older people are interested in support from computer technology but shy away from sophisticated interaction processes

When using computer-based interactive devices, older users have very similar requirements to those of younger users and the authors of an ethnographic study in which 20 young (mean age 25 years) and 19 older adults (mean age 71 years) were instructed to photograph 24 interactive devices in their daily surroundings, 12 of which they liked and 12 of which they disliked.

Additionally, they were to describe, using only a few words, why they liked or disliked the photographed device. A content analysis of 2,493 statements regarding 929 devices revealed 8 factors influencing the general liking/disliking of interactive devices. These 8 factors can be condensed to 4, as follows: (1) utility as measured by functionality,

general quality and matching of user needs (mentioned in 38% of all statements); (2) usability (i.e. ergonomic design; 32%); (3) aesthetic design and emotional involvement (21%), and (4) cost/price (9%). While the main reason for liking interactive devices is their utility, the main reason for disliking them is poor usability.

Cum grano salis, there are more similarities in the findings for the two age groups than there are differences. The ranking mentioned above is the same for younger and older users. There are only two significant differences in the frequency of statements; namely, older adults named usability more frequently and younger adults named general quality more frequently. The authors interpreted this result as supporting our general assumption that older users appreciate computing technologies (and products which incorporate them) if they (1) are convinced that they offer advantages to their daily lives (as do younger adults) and (2) feel that using these technologies will not be burdensome or require too much learning effort (less important for younger adults).

In summary, many studies have found that older users do not regard computers as useless or unnecessary. In fact, the opposite is true. The main reason for older people deciding to use a computer system is its perceived usefulness. This explains why most of them are more interested in the results of computer technology use than in the technology itself. The main reason for non-use is not the lack of perceived usefulness but rather the lack of perceived

(and real) usability.

This is an important myth to understand as it enables not only the design of technology enabled products and services to be better planned but it also levels the playing field of understanding. Its NOT that older people need to find the technology useful. Its that everyone needs to find the technology useful. It’s then less about how great the features of the technology are but a demonstrated understanding and communication of how useful and beneficial those features are.

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