[Accessory auricle in the eustachian tube].

You need a device, a problem and someone who can help you to solve the problem. This is the big advantage of the young generation, who are socialised into this muddling through approach. Older individuals essentially have to unlearn some routines in order to deal with technology. However they have considerable latecomer advantages [23].


It requires – like most successful learning activities – a lot of manpower for support and instruction, plus a technical infrastructure. This works fine as long as a basic (State) funding is guaranteed, which in Germany was for a long time the case in most of the age-specific learning services. It becomes more difficult now with budget cuts by various governmental agencies. As a result specific learning institutions for the elderly lose not only considerable part of their clients but also resources to maintain their technical infrastructure. minimal requirements in order to effectively use use search engines, these individuals are excluded.

Elderly people still play a minor role in research on information needs and usage patterns of Internet users. Online research and advocacy groups look optimistically at the (economic and social) potential of the active and technology-skilled elderly; other approaches dealing with the social appropriation of technology see obstacles and stress the dangers of an increasing digital divide between generations. Our objective is to refer to taken for granted normative assumptions of the digital divide discourse, highlighting different requirements for the appropriation of the Internet.

The elderly, who communicate mostly within the same age cohort of retirees and who have a similar educational background, have no professional incentives to use the Internet, which has a lot to offer to young and well-educated people (chats, games, films, music, etc.) but provides less to offer for the elderly. There are good reasons why they refuse to participate.

Most of our arguments are taken from German Internet research and the discourse on the digital divide. It might be the case – given a current controversial discussion about the “burden” of the elderly – that a new definition of “generation” might be more appropriate. Rosenmayr’ definition of “generation” is a “polarisation of interests of age related large groups which mutually allocate and deny each-others resources” [30]. This would mean that inclusion rhetoric is good for economically sound times; when it comes to periods of stagnation and crisis only appeals to self-help or the invocation of the market to provide courses would remain. The “silvermedia” experience shows that there is a potential for age-specific courses and for low-level introductory courses.

Non-users are regarded as obstacles to innovation and progress. In this perspective the elderly are the most difficult group due to their low adoption pace which required specific pedagogical efforts to motivate each individual. In group 60+ the proportion of Internet users is smaller than in other age groups. Elderly men are more likely to use the Internet than women. The rate of elderly users will gradually grow in Germany [31] but it will never reach the rates of younger users.

The diffusion rate among the elderly is increasing, but will continue to lag behind the figures of the young users. Cultural preparations and easy access modes are essential for the elderly, who could make use of latecomer advantages. Informal learning and peer group support will be crucial for the diffusion of the Internet among the elderly.

A 2002 study holds that the Internet is number one hobby for British pensioners and that around 83 percent of seniors in the U.K. go online on a regular basis (NUA survey report of 13 May 2002). No doubt, on the individual level, the elderly can profit personally from turning to the Internet.

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