[Accessory auricle in the eustachian tube].

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Non-users are regarded as obstacles to innovation and progress. In this perspective the elderly are the most difficult group due to their low adoption pace which required specific pedagogical efforts to motivate each individual. In group 60+ the proportion of Internet users is smaller than in other age groups. Elderly men are more likely to use the Internet than women. The rate of elderly users will gradually grow in Germany [31] but it will never reach the rates of younger users.

On the one hand, these barriers can be removed via peers of younger informal or professional supporters. On the other hand having the means and training to access the Internet might become more important, presuming that the development of public (like e-government) and other Internet-based services increases rapidly.

A third group largely uses the Internet at home; we might include in this group students and – to a lesser degree – the elderly. 31. “NetValue” figures from the U.K. (which is in third position with 13 percent of the total home online population after Sweden [17.4] and Denmark [16.3]) show a sharp Internet usage increase of 90 percent since 2001 for the elderly (NUA Survey information of 28 March 2002).

Most of our arguments are taken from German Internet research and the discourse on the digital divide. It might be the case – given a current controversial discussion about the “burden” of the elderly – that a new definition of “generation” might be more appropriate. Rosenmayr’ definition of “generation” is a “polarisation of interests of age related large groups which mutually allocate and deny each-others resources” [30]. This would mean that inclusion rhetoric is good for economically sound times; when it comes to periods of stagnation and crisis only appeals to self-help or the invocation of the market to provide courses would remain. The “silvermedia” experience shows that there is a potential for age-specific courses and for low-level introductory courses.

In our conclusions we look at the specific social status of the elderly cohort, which makes a comparison with other social groups very difficult. Concepts of the Internet are intertwined with ideas of a technology driven social development. This can be shown, for example, in discourses about the liberating and participatory potential of e-learning, e-government, e-elections, e-economy, etc. (Roesler, 1997; Malone and Laubacher, 1998; Zerdick, 1999; Lührs, et al., 2004). These and other applications (like e-banking, e-shopping, e-health) stand for the promise that in the near future individual well-being and social progress in the knowledge society (Bundesregierung, 2002; IST, 2002) will be enhanced by the technology of the Internet – provided all citizens have access and are ready to participate.

gerd munker

We tried to show that knowledge gap and digital divide discourses implicitly foster the myth of a technological driven social development. In this vein the elderly are obstacles for the rapid development of the Information Society, which promises to remove social barriers and provide a variety of e-based services. Concerns for increases in the digital divide between generations must be taken seriously but they still have a normative base (taking for granted that everyone has to use the Internet which per se has a positive value).

B. Östlund, 2003. “Social science research on technology and the elderly – Does it exist?” at www.certec.lth.se/britt.ostlund/SocialScience.pdf, accessed 25 September 2005. The use of the Internet by the elderly may not reach the levels noted for younger audiences. This is a result that many popular Internet applications are not aimed at the elderly and their interests [32].

The answer is through both informal and formal learning. Computer-learning and the knowledge acquisition of modern technologies is per se informal learning.

gerd munker

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