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Elderly: Strangers Do Not Get Emails

Elderly: Strangers Do Not Get Emails

Photo: Old hands on a keyboard 

Researchers have studied how older people interact and use email in their daily life. The study will be used to design new email systems that are more intuitive and accessible.

Electronic mail or email is the internet application used the most, even by older people, who haven't grown up with Information and Computer Technology (ICT), and have had to put in greater effort to learn to use it than younger people. However, social and technological scientists still know very little about how older people or the elderly interact with email systems in their daily life.

"We wanted to understand how older people use email on a daily basis in terms of accessibility, frequency, type of content, relation with other technology and activities, communication models, motivations and interactive experiences", Sergio Sayago, main author of the study and researcher at Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (UPF).

The ethnographic investigation spent three years analysing email use habits of close to 400 people between 64 and 80 years-old in social centres in Barcelona.

"In this context, ethnography consists of spending a lot of time with the users in real-life interaction situations, observing how they use the technology, speaking with them (informal conversations, interviews in groups or individually), and taking notes on almost everything", Sayago explains.

"Older people feel motivated to use ICT as they see it as an important element for feeling part of contemporary society and fighting against the isolation that can increase with age", the study explains.

Researchers have demonstrated that older people use email within a restricted circle of two different social groups: relatives (a few emails a month, but which are detailed and emotional) and close friends (more frequent and exchanging information based on their social life).

"They use email to communicate with their social circles; they don't use it as a means of establishing relationships with people they don't know. For this, they have other more down to earth strategies in their lives such as going to a social centre to a dance, and meeting people there", confirms the researcher.; Source: Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

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