Bringing older technology users into the digital mainstream

Those who are left behind in the use of the internet fall on the wrong side of what is known as the ‘digital divide’, and foremost of these are older people, particularly from the ethnic minorities. Professor Jyoti Choudrie has been concerned with processes exclusion arising from the increased use of digital technology for more than ten years, and has taken a particular interest in older technology users in general and ethnic minority users in particular. She has been keen to unlock their knowledge and entrepreneurial ability for their families and communities.

For example, Professor Choudrie ran a project entitled ‘Developing an Evaluation Framework for Silver Surfers’ which ran from 2007 - 2009, and was funded by Microsoft, Citizens Online and Hertfordshire Business School. One of her conclusions is that older people are no less likely than younger people to learn new digital skills if broadband access is freely available. A further report by Professor Choudrie and Dr Susan Grey (2008) examined technical and non-technical factors that lead ‘silver surfers’ to use the internet. They found that if older people are willing, and if volunteers can be found to help them with the right support and equipment, then the former can improve their chances for sustained employment, sustained entrepreneurship, and can reduce their sense of loneliness. A striking finding was that they are more likely to use it for children’s homework and household activities, such as online shopping.

In 2013, Professor Choudrie conducted a smaller study of older adults in which she found that they were more likely to use digital media if they encouraged to do so by their social circle. She also found that many authorities may be oblivious to the digital needs of older people of ethnic origins within their boroughs. Local authorities did not seem to have adequate engagement and collaboration with the older community, particularly in e-government projects.

Professor Choudrie completed a study of older adults in Hertfordshire in 2014 into how they made use of social media sites to connect with their families and communities. Her publication in the Social Change and Technology journal ed to her being invited to speak to the EU Seniors as Entrepreneurs Laboratory in Barcelona in 2015.

What is ground-breaking about Professor Choudrie’s research is the discovery of intergenerational links between younger people, so-called Millennials, and their older relatives: both are of service to the other. Younger people help with technological skills, while older people offer wisdom and experience. This insight led to Professor Choudrie’s next research focus and to the coining of the term ‘knowledge angels’ to describe the as-yet-untapped potential of ‘silver surfers’. Because of her expertise and international reputation, Professor Choudrie’s was invited to give a keynote speech at the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science event in November 2017 on Smart Technologies.

Her current research project is to work with Age UK, the local Indian community and a local radio station to promote internet use amongst older ethnic minority communities in Southall. She intends to develop new practical insights into how best to bring those on the wrong side of the digital divide back into the mainstream.