Fears of loneliness and isolation may be preventing some older adults from using online technology, according to newly published research in the journal Communications of the ACM.

Researchers from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom interviewed 14 older adults and found that many of them believe that online shopping could take business away from local stores, threatening the town centers where they can socialize with friends. Also, it could potentially cause banks, post offices and other businesses to close and people to lose their jobs, those interviewed said.

“The efficiency gained by conducting online interactions is not a powerful motivator for technology adoption by older adults, who may be experiencing loneliness and isolation,”  said Vicki Hanson, Ph.D., a visiting professor at Lancaster University who is based at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY. “In many cases, making digital technologies appealing for older adults means ensuring that digital engagements do not replace social interactions, and if possible, facilitate new social and community-building opportunities where they can meet people.”

Other views encountered by Hanson and Bran Knowles, Ph.D.:

  • Comparison websites may be burdensome compared with being able to call someone for assistance with decision-making.
  • Lack of knowledge about how to use online tools properly, in particular online banking, could be a security risk.

Older adults themselves may perpetuate the myth that people their age have trouble using technology, according to the researchers. For example, people who don’t like social media because they think it can enable cyberbullying may say they are “too old” in order to justify not using it, because fewer expectations exist for an older person to use social media.

“Doing so allows older adults a privilege not available to most working-age adults to take personal stands against the aspects of technology they find worrying, threatening or just plain annoying,” said Knowles, a lecturer at Lancaster University.