The Digital Divide and Technology Generations – European Implications from the Austrian Perspective

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Vera GALLISTL, Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
Franz KOLLAND, Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
Background. Shifting towards an information society, the integration of older adults into information and communication technologies (ICT) poses a major challenge. Information-exclusion among citizens aged 50+ years results in a digital divide which intensifies social inequalities between European countries, genders and age groups. Reasons for this divide lie in the unequal distribution of access, competence and usage of ICT. The concept of technology generations (Sackmann & Weymann, 1994; Sackmann & Winkler, 2013) embeds seemingly age-related reduction of technology competences in a socio-structural/cultural context.

Methods.The OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) assesses the proficiency of adults in key competences for participating in information-rich societies, including problem solving in technology-rich environments. Complementing PIAAC data with 36 qualitative interviews conducted with practitioners from senior education in seven European countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain), spatial, socio-structural and temporal dimensions of digital exclusion are analysed.

Results & Conclusions. Results show that ICT-use and competences decline with age in all participating countries. This attends to external (i.e. costs, age-insensitive design) and internal (i.e. technological scepticism, security concerns, lack of competences) barriers and therefor to several “bottle-necks” of the digital divide, such as social stratification, lack of competences but also lack of simplicity of technical devices. However, the Austrian case study shows that technology generations play an important role in access to technology and technological competence.

Info-exclusion of older adults calls for a generational approach, considering cohorts with a similar ”technological biographies”. However, generation appears to be one dimension in the digital divide among many. Beyond, data suggests that life transitions (e.g. lifelong learning) can both form and transcend generational exclusion from ICT. Lifelong learning and generation-sensitive pedagogical models appear as one approach to entangle the digital divide in Europe.