There’s a discussion of whether older people find ICT skills more difficult to acquire than younger people on a VCS research network I belong to. But I’m not sure it’s a skills issue as ‘older’ people are very well represented on social networking sites and can usually easily learn the skills.
The issue is motivation — for example I do think there’s a cultural difference in the way 20-somethings organise their social ‘reality’ around social networking and mobile phones. Patterns of socialising change over time (well, for most of us), which isn’t new. I’ve noticed that arrangements to meet 20-somethings usually involve a sort of ‘triangulation’ exercise where I’m updated every hour or so on their shifting trajectory and ETA and I have a real sense of a swarm of nodes constantly reorganising their temporal-spatial links on the other end of my moby. A youthful relative once asked me how on earth we managed to make social arrangements without mobile phones. I explained that we used to make an arrangement in advance and stick to it. Wow, she breathed – how inconvenient!
‘Always on’ just isn’t part of many people’s ‘reality’, however, and so they are not going to pick up and constantly update their ICT skills in the same way. However, if there’s an application people find meaningful, they will pick up the necessary skills. For example, a fifty-something acquaintance did about 20 ICT training courses, none of which stuck. She was convinced that she was ‘useless’ at technology and just didn’t need email etc. But when sent a bunch of Flickr photos of a new baby in the family she suddenly decided to buy a computer and started enthusiastically teaching herself to use photo apps. For my 70-something father it was Skype with video when my brother was living abroad – and being able to print out the service order and hymns attractively for the church where he’s sexton. He nevertheless has a firm resistance to learning to do nything else ICT-wise and eschews social neworking with loathing.
Professionals, governments and educators get hung up on ‘skills’ but, I think, the fact is that if people want to use computers for something that matters to them, they’ll pick up the skills. It’s mostly an appropriate design problem rather than a skills problem.