It may not surprise you to learn that in the UK, 90% of adults have access to the internet in some form. It probably also comes as no surprise that those who are most likely not to have access are typically older – with access ranging from 95% for under 55s, to 78% for the 65-74s and 53% for over 75s.
What’s more interesting – perhaps even surprising – is that older cohorts are among the most techno-optimistic in society. Our exclusive Global Foresight data reveals that the over 55s are more likely than under 25s to agree that new technology has a positive impact on society. The most positive group are those aged 55-64, but 58% of over 65s share this view of technology as beneficial as well.
In a week when Facebook’s user demographics have come into the spotlight – suggesting a decline in younger users but a sharp rise in older ones – the techno-optimist cohort identified in our data (the over 55s) will become the social network’s second biggest user group this year.
These are interesting developments, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this data runs counter to the many technophobic reports pointing to the negative impact of new technology on society. These are often viewed through the lens of intergenerational conflict and paint a picture of a nation at war; young people may be digitally savvy, but baby boomers ‘won’ on housing. Actually, on this evidence, it seems older generations are making the most of new technology as well.
Younger generations are also optimistic about technology as well and this bodes extremely well for a near and long-term future in which many of the challenges we will face will be technological. Technology and the world are getting more complex and there is an urgent collective need for informed debates about, among other things, the impact of automation and its effect on the labour market, the burgeoning field of predictive diagnostics and its many ethical implications and even our digital legacies that can remain after we die.
A climate of general optimism about technology – and one shared by both the youngest and oldest in society – doesn’t eradicate the need to have these debates, but it does mean we can approach them in the right way.