Digital by default – mind the generation gap.

I recommend everyone,  from comms strategists and policy wonks to the merely socially curious,  take a look here  for a fascinating overview of British social attitudes in 2012, compiled by Ipsos Mori.

The research was presented at the Government Communications Network  last week and generated a flurry of startling factoids on Twitter – like this one:

more children between the ages of 2 and 5 can use a smartphone than can tie their own shoelaces.

There’s a mass of useful information for planners in the report.  I’ve  gathered together some of the insights revealed during the debate which highlight some important trends and generational differences:

  • On average each UK household owns 3 different types of Internet-enabled devices
  • For the 1st time, over half (52%) of all calls are made via mobile phones
  • Big differences in methods of communications: 16-24s heavily text reliant. Over 65s opposite, voice-based
  • 1/3 of 16-24 year olds live in a mobile-only home. More than double UK average of 15%
  • 8/10 people in UK have Internet access. Figure drops for over 55s
  • Implication is of increased polarisation between young and old. Rise of the smart phone. Texting as a mass medium.  TV remains strong. Young people are switching off the radio. Post is still v important to older people
  • BT and Virgin’s superfast broadband services were available to around 60% of homes by March 2012

It’s clear  that a broad mass of people of all ages are perfectly comfortable in an online world and have multiple means of accessing it.  The generational divide isn’t as clear cut as you might think – here are some more statistics, from the Forster Company’s overview of age in the UK:

  • 47% of 55 – 75 year olds connect to their friends with either Skype or instant messenger services
  • 45% of 55 – 75 year olds spend up to 30 hours on the internet a week
  • 33% of over 55s use social networks
  • The fastest growing group of Facebook users is aged 50+

We’re not all digital natives yet

But it’s  also  clear that while many of the over 55s are fine online,  a significant minority aren’t – yet.  That’s an important issue for policy-makers.  Time will eventually iron out the difference until everyone left standing is a digital native , but we’re not there yet.  This makes the government’s strategy of making public service delivery “digital by default” by 2015 look slightly optimistic.

If people have to access the services they need online, what happens to those (currently 20%+ of the over 55s, according to the Ipsos Mori research)  who don’t have internet access?

If people over the age of 65 are more comfortable with having a conversation than dealing in “text-based communication”, how easy will they find negotiating an online application form for vital services like pensions or social care?

The recent story about the shortcomings of the helpline for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections didn’t inspire confidence:

[A whistleblower]  who is working at an Electoral Commission call centre dealing with queries about the election, told the Guardian that he spoke to hundreds of older people every day who could not access the information online. They were referred to a “very temperamental automated phoneline” at the Home Office, and then were only given a list of names and no real information”

And how long will it take before superfast broadband is available everywhere so that online applications can be done speedily even in remote rural areas?


One response to “Digital by default – mind the generation gap.

  1. Pingback: Friday afternoon reading: November 16, 2012 | The Democratic Society

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