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Older Aussies Aren't As 'Behind The Times' As Some Think

Stereotyping older Australians as being left behind by technology is both "unfounded" and "harmful", as new research finds many are active online. 

National Seniors Australia, an independent organisation, released its latest report into digital literacy among older Australians on Tuesday.

The report surveyed more than 5,400 people aged from over 50 to those in their 90s, and found a generally "digitally literate" cohort comfortable with regularly using the internet and various apps.

About 70 percent of respondents were using an internet search engine at least once a day last year, with over 50 percent doing online banking and 40 percent on Facebook daily.

Photo: Getty

Many respondents reported using smartphone apps each day, with maps, weather, email, Facebook and internet banking apps being most popular. LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter and Centrelink rated lower on the list.

National Seniors CEO Professor John McCallum said the findings challenge stereotypes about an elderly person's skill set.

"There are just too many blanket statements that are very negative ... such as 'they're behind the times, 'they're digitally illiterate' or 'there is a digital divide between young and old'," he said.

While the survey acknowledged the issue of a 'digital divide' is still relevant among this cohort, it said such "reductionist" stereotypes are "not only harmful but also unfounded".

The survey categorised respondents based on their level of literacy and comfort using digital technology. About 31.4 percent were considered 'Super Surfers',  41.6 percent were 'Savvy Surfers' while those who were less confident were labelled 'Sometimes Surfers' (21 .8 percent) and 'Seldom Surfers' (5.2 percent).

McCallum said those classed as 'Super Surfers' are more likely to be women, in good health, still working and/or with children. 

“Many of us are beyond good and would rate ourselves as excellent," one respondent said. 

The inference that seniors can only be ‘good’ in handling digital technology is an insult to your target audience’.

Those seniors aged over 50 who do not engage with digital technologies were also acknowledged as 'Stranded Surfers'.

"We acknowledge the importance of not leaving Stranded Surfers 'on the beach', in a world where digital technology is increasingly pervasive," the report states.

"By no means should the findings from this digitally literate cohort detract from the important issue of older Australians facing increasing barriers to service access if they are not online."

READ MORE: Why Older Aussies Are Staying Working Longer And Not Retiring

McCallum said digital literacy should be viewed as the "new factor in the accumulative disadvantage of vulnerable older Australians".

“Those who have less skills are more likely to be victims of scams than those who are more skilled," he said.

“They’re also likely to find the costs of mobile and internet services a barrier to them using the internet and devices."

National Seniors Australia is calling on more training programs and initiatives for older Australians, particularly 'sometimes' or 'seldom' surfers.

Featured image: Getty