Thursday, 9 January, 2020

New technologies: few over-65s use social media

Only 7% of Italians aged over 65 use social networks, less than half the European average. This is the result of a study conducted as part of the Ageing in a Networked Society project, coordinated by Emanuela Sala, professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Research at Milano-Bicocca, supported by Fondazione Cariplo.

The researchers analysed a sample of over 32,000 Europeans, all aged over 65 (data source: Eurostat Community Statistics on Information Societies). In 2016, just 7% of elderly Italians used social networks.

However, the trend is growing compared to 2013, when only 3% of over-65s accessed social networks. Nonetheless, there is still a significant grey digital divide, i.e. the disparity between the use of new technologies by the elderly population and the rest of the population. Comparing Italian data with European data, it has emerged that the over-65s in Italy who use new technologies amount to less than half of their European counterparts (the average figure for use of social networks in Europe is 16%). The difference compared to the younger generations in Italy (39%) is in line with the European average (38%).
On 13 January at the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Milano-Bicocca (Building U7, Pagani Room, 8 Via Bicocca degli Arcimboldi) there will be a presentation of the first results of the research and a discussion of the relationship between elderly Italians and Europeans and new technologies. During this event, the results of two other studies – aimed at understanding which apps older people favour and how much the use of social media affects social relationships – will also be presented. 

Which apps and for how long        
They love WhatsApp, have a Facebook profile and access Youtube. To study how and when the new technologies are used, a special monitoring app was directly installed on the smartphones of 30 volunteers of the Monza and Brianza AUSER association, aged between 65 and 75 years old. Analysis of the collected data revealed that each participant accesses their smartphone 127 times a day for a total of one hour and 8 minutes. Over the course of a month, participants spend an average of 35 hours on their smartphone; however, the average time they spend on their phone each time they access it is 32 seconds.
The analysis shows that smartphone use is fairly stable throughout the day (specifically from 8 am to 8 pm). However, there is a drop between 1 and 5 a.m. and a peak at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.. This data would suggest that their smartphone is the first thing participants check as soon as they wake up and the last thing before they go to sleep.
The study found that WhatsApp is by far the most used social media app by the participants (52% of total time spent on their smartphones), followed by Facebook (36%), YouTube (10%), LinkedIn (1%) and Instagram (1%). The data shows that participants make extensive use of social networking sites, and in particular platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, which increase the opportunities for connection and social interaction between users. Curiously, no significant use of shopping and health-related applications was observed.

No relationship between use of social media and reduced loneliness
During the event, the results of a social experiment conducted by Fondazione Golgi Cenci in Abbiategrasso, in collaboration with researchers from Milano-Bicocca, will also be presented. A social experiment to analyse the effect of using smartphones and Facebook and WhatsApp applications on the loneliness and cognitive functions of the elderly. Researchers studied the extent to which use of these new technologies can help combat loneliness and maintain cognitive functions more effectively than traditional social relationships.

Almost 150 elderly people took part in the social experiment. Preliminary analysis of the data revealed that those who used their smartphone for two months (the duration of the experiment) did not report any significant improvement compared to those engaged in traditional social activities.