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Lindsey Naples

The Issue with Digital Literacy

Using age to understand technology adoption

Mar 28, 2024 8:00:00 PM


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In today's fast-paced digital world, the concept of digital literacy is very relevant. While younger generations seem to effortlessly navigate technology, older adults often face challenges in keeping up. And it may be a commonality between both the young and the old. I got to thinking about this the other day when a three-way collision of this very concept happened all at once.


As my 16-year-old niece was showing me (33) how to do something on my phone, I was begging my father (68-year-old real estate owner), to make all the property bills digital and on autopay so that we not only have hard copies of the proof of payment but to also save on stamps (not to mention the payment goes in immediately and I wouldn’t have to go to the post office). At the same time as this was all going on, my 92-year-old angel of a grandmother asked for help changing the channel because she couldn’t figure out the remote.


Younger generations—especially those born in the digital age—are more skilled at technology, while older adults may struggle with its complexities. Factors like slower cognitive adaptation and rapid technological advancements contribute to this, intensifying the digital gap. But on the other hand, those younger generations, while at ease in the technological landscape, aren’t really all that fluent in it, either.


Challenges of Aging and Technology

As people age, cognitive decline and fear of change/refusal to adjust habits can hinder quite a bit, especially when it comes to their digital literacy. My grandma not understanding the television remote and my dad refusing to embrace digital communications are prime examples, respectively.


In the recently published Keypoint Intelligence study on consumer banking and brokerage transactional behaviors, it was found that “Overall, digital statements are significantly more common among younger individuals, with 80 to 90% of younger respondents receiving their statements digitally. This reflects a broader trend of digital adoption among younger generations, while older generations show less propensity towards digital-only banking communications.”


Source: 2023 Consumer Banking and Brokerage Transactional
Behaviors Companion Document, Keypoint Intelligence.



The more technology becomes a daily part of life, the ones who lose touch with it or fail to grasp the intricacies of it suddenly find themselves in a landscape that makes it potentially difficult to communicate with loved ones (something like the pandemic highlights this point especially), pay bills or bank (as the statistics above point to), and unfortunately can be more at risk of scams and incorrect information—with the added potential of sharing that misinformation across social media platforms or the like.


I mean, googling a simple headache trigger immediately yields results that essentially say, “Prepare thy will”. Not to mention opening e-mails that look like they’re from your bank, but are definitely not, or seeing misinformation about health and wellness and suddenly being fearful. A 2022 article from the WHO details that the “review found that people feel mental, social, political and/or economic distress due to misleading and false health-related content on social media during pandemics, health emergencies and humanitarian crises” as well as an “increase vaccine hesitancy, and can delay the provision of health care”.


Darn Youth of Today—It’s Their Problem, Too
While the idea of older in age usually equals less understanding of new technology, it’s just the same for younger generations. A 2019 Washington Post article details that “according to the International Computer and Information Literacy 2018 study, only 2% of students reach the highest level of computer and information literacy and computational thinking skills,” meaning that only 2% can work independently with technology to gather and manage information with some degree of precision and evaluative judgment. Gen Z, while more comfortable with technology than older generations, basically knows just as little. That same niece who showed me how to do something on my phone had no concept of the CTRL+X function. I had to explain what it was plus what the difference between cut and copy was…she just couldn’t grasp it.


So essentially, you can send a text with balloons across my screen and do some fancy settings stuff on your phone. But what happens when you can’t effectively understand how to forward or quietly CC an e-mail? Share your screen? Read an Excel sheet?


There must be some middle ground here…


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

It’s all fun and games when you’re playing with a VR headset until you realize you may be isolating and ostracizing an entire age bracket with these advancements—or leaving behind younger generations because they seem to effectively understand but honestly only have basic skills—which leads to a bigger disconnect in human social interactions the further along we move.

It might be more imperative (in terms of app/device features) to make technological advancements that take these factors into account more so than they currently seem to. Technology is ever-evolving, which means that so should our learning. Bernard Marr in a Forbes.com article correctly muses, “It's not a case of acquiring digital skills and then you're done. It requires an ongoing commitment.” Accountants and doctors have to take regular courses and tests to stay abreast of their field, so why should something so integral in our lives be any different? Otherwise, eventually the technology will advance, but age groups across the board won’t really know what to do with it.


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