Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

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Digital inclusion and the elderly population #Blogg100


Photo: Kajsa Hartig.

The central organisation Uppsalas Pensionärsföreningars Samarbetsråd (UPS) acts on behalf of 63 associations to represent and defend the interests of the senior citizens in Uppsala, Sweden. Uppsala is Sweden’s fourth city with its 200 000 inhabitants, 70 km north of the capital Stockholm.  UPS recently analyzed the report Digidel 2013 – Increased Digital Inclusion. Digidel 2013 was a campaign (2011–2013) to increase the part of the population actively using digital services. The campaign was formed by a network of NGOs, libraries, companies and authorities.

UPS’ findings and conclusions are relevant in many ways even if you are not working primarily with elderly people, but if you are about to implement digital tools in your organisation.

In Sweden, less than 10% of the population never use the internet. Unsurprisingly, most of these non-digital citizens are seniors. The reasons for elderly not to be online are many, from cognitive and physical difficulties to pure disinterest. Another major obstacle is to start learning how to use complex technical devices. The interesting question raised by Uppsala Pensionärsföreningars Samarbetsråd is:

To what extent is this lack of IT-proficiency a problem for an elderly population who’s lived all their life offline?

Most of those without access to the Internet already feel they are missing out a lot, from opportunities to live a less isolated life to fully enjoying their democratic rights. It is a fact that most authorities in Sweden expect all citizens to be using their online services, which have silently replaced their traditional, offline ones. Being part of the online community can also lead to better healthcare as well as a sense of inclusion, networking with people in different communities, etc. The list of situations where offline seniors are missing out is already very long and it won’t stop growing. Even worse for these seniors the digitization of services are seen as improvement and progress by the society in general.

On a national level a direct consequence of the quasitotal absence of seniors in social media media is that they are not getting the attention that they deserve in broad cast media, especially during this years national elections.

One major issue when trying to get elderly people online is that they can’t be reached through usual training programs. They don’t see the benefits of using internet to the extent that they will want to overcome technological barriers. As Digidel states in their report:

”More than seventy percent of those not using the Internet in 2013 specify ’lack of interest’ as the main reason . It may also be that the Internet is not commonly used in the environment they live in. Just less than twenty percent say internet is too complicated. The rest thinks it is too expensive or that they are prevented from using internet by practical difficulties or disabilities.”

This report and the analysis made by Uppsala Pensionärsföreningars Samarbetsråd shows that when reaching out to elderly people, the focus should be on making everyone understand the relevance of internet (including social media) in a person’s everyday life. There is a need for computer classes, but this is not enough to attract the quite large number of elders that lack interest for Internet and new media. To put it simply, technical training initiatives won’t reach their goals if the very purpose behind this training isn’t understood by participants. I believe this approach is applicable in any organisation when implementing digital tools and services.

I will return to the subject of digital inclusion and the relevance of social media and internet to individuals in an upcoming blog post.

This blog post was written i collaboration with Matthieu Hartig, communications strategist at Uppsala Pensionärsföreningars Samarbetsråd (UPS).


Blog post 13/100 #Blogg100-challenge

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Mind the gap #Blogg100

Blog post 018/100 #Blogg100 challenge

MInd the gap. Photo: Riccardo Bandiera. CC-BY-NC. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewhitestdogalive/540622678/

MInd the gap. Photo: Riccardo Bandiera. CC-BY-NC.

This blog post will add some reflections on the digital literacy gap. As I wrote two years ago, I believe digital inclusion is an important task for cultural heritage organisations. However, in my experience the gap between early adopters and so called laggards or digitally excluded, looks somewhat different today than only two years ago.

I must admit that I was much more concerned then about the gap between those who fear or avoid digital, and early adopters, than I am now.

So what has happened? I believe the evolution of digital in cultural heritage institutions, at least in Sweden, is moving ahead though not as fast as I had perhaps anticipated. It’s an slow and efficient evolution, not only driven by organisations but by the entire society.

With a whole new generation of young digitally savvy kids, and an emerging digitally connected school, we are all affected. Facebook has been around long enough for most people to see the benefits of it, from one perspective or the other. It’s an infrastructure here to stay, as Brit Stakston recently stated in a blog post. Media and public service are keeping up with changes in society. Public service TV and radio are all digital and streaming online. Newspapers are gaining more subscriptions online.

Digital is everywhere. It is very hard to avoid. This brings the large masses onto the digital arena, in one way or the other, whether they do so willingly or not. This makes me less worried about the gap. There will always be people excluded from the digital arenas. But this is not primarily a digital problem, it’s a matter of exclusion in many other ways (poverty, language barriers, age etc). For these categories we need to be much more aware of what other issues are causing digital exclusion.

So in some ways the gap is not as wide anymore, and it looks different than only two years ago. What will it look like two years ahead?

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Opening Plenary at MW2011

Opening Plenary at MW2011, by Kristen Purcell, Pew Research Center

Opening Plenary at MW2011, by Kristen Purcell, Pew Research Center

While attending the conference Museums and the Web, in Philadelphia, I try to take some time to reflect on the presentations.

My impressions are so far that I enjoy the conference just as much as previous years, and that it has taken us participants again one step further in the development of museums and the web.

I truly appriciated the Opening Plenary by Kristen Purcell, from the Pew Research Center in Washington DC. The title was Grounding Internet Information Trends, and was based on research in the project Pew Internet.

Kristen Purcell presented a few groundbreaking changes in the evolution of internet:

  • access to broadband
  • development of mobile devices
  • wireless internet
  • the evolution of social networking

Kristen Purcell also sees a growing use of geo-location services even if there are still only 17% of all adult internet users in the US who claim they use such services.

Another big step is the evolution of apps for mobile devices, according to the Pew Reaserach Center study. They are especially useful when they bypass search, answer questions, solve problems and help accomplish tasks. However, as Kristen Purcell pointed out, it’s difficult to ask these questions in the research study, since many people don’t even know if they own a smart phone or if it has apps installed.

Not knowing what an app is, or not having access to internet, is a sign of The digital divide, a topic that was constantly recurring in the Opening Plenary. At the same time information today is – as Kristen Purcell put it – portable, participatory and personalized. Both of these aspects of the internet and the way people recieve information, affect the way museums need to adress their audiences.

Kristen Purcell finished the Opening Plenary by giving some very good (and to some extent challenging) advice on how to keep up with the evolving internet and the changing demands of the audiences:

  1. Be a filter, a trusted expert (very much needed in the age of abundant information)
  2. Be a curator, a one-stop-shop and an aggregator
  3. Be a node in a network (your audience have audiences)
  4. Be a community builder, create new networks, share and respond
  5. Be a lifesaver, provide timely information
  6. Provide tour guides, use geo-location services to connect your content with real world locations

Perhaps the most challenging, as I see it, would be the one-stop-shop approach. I believe this will set museums off in a new direction. The audience expectations are already constantly changing, but this will demand for more creative and innovative strategies by museums. Being a one-stop-shop is also connected to being a lifesaver, that is – as I see it – being relevant to the audience to a much greater extent than we are today.

The advice for museums presented by Kristen Purcell is one of the things I will bring back home from MW2011. I am also looking forward to see how other will respond to the challenges in the year to come.

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Early adopters vs laggards?

I believe digital inclusion is part of the mission at cultural heritage institutions. A lot of work is going on in Europe right now to raise awareness about and to prevent digital exclusion.

In Sweden there is a whole campaign, Digidel 2013, run by the Swedish adult education in its broadest sense, that is, libraries, learning centers, adult education, adult education colleges. The campaign was launched December 3, 2010 with ”The appeal of digital inclusion”. The campaign aims to decrease the digital gap by half a million persons by 2013. The goal is for these people ”to start using the internet”.

So what is digital inclusion. The fact is that 1.5 million Swedes are excluded from the internet, mainly because they don’t have access to the internet in their homes. The term for these people is ”non-users” according to www.digidel.se.

Starting to think of the correct term for the people who actually have access to internet in their homes, but chose to not take part of the communities and conversations going on, I dropped a question on Twitter: What do you call the opposite of ”early adopters”? The English term is apparantly ”laggards”.

Laggards is a term quite impossible to translate to Swedish. It’s in any case rather negative. I find it excluding in itself (in it’s Swedish translation) even though it might be a common term in English.

In general I got quite excluding answers. I sense quite some frustration among my early adopter-Twitterfriends about these ”laggards”.

Communications consultant Brit Stakston at JMW Communications has with great persistance recently emphasized  the need to take into account the people with ”analogue values”, who are unaccustomed to life online and how to use the internet. And this is what I am after. Maybe I won’t find a final term to use, but this is close enough.

And why does it matter? Well, trying to mediate cultural heritage online it’s ofcourse vital to know who is online and who is not, and to learn what ”being online” actually means. This is surely an interesting topic in itself.


The consumers of cultural heritage could perhaps, very roughly, be described as follows:

  1. Non-users (15 % in Sweden)
  2. People with internet access, analogue values, unaccustomed to live on the internet
  3. Early adopters (how many?)

I am still exploring the terms and the ”classification” and will surely return with new insights further on this year.

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