With Internet and technology taking new leaps everyday, scientists at the Universidad Pompeu Fabra (UPF) have found how older people interact and use email in their daily life.
The study was carried out in social centres in Barcelona and will be used to design new email systems that are more intuitive and accessible.
Electronic mail or email is the Internet application used the most, even by older people, who haven't grown up with Information and Computer Technology (ICT), and have had to put in greater effort to learn to use it than younger people.
"We wanted to understand how older people use email on a daily basis in terms of accessibility, frequency, type of content, relation with other technology and activities, communication models, motivations and interactive experiences", said Sergio Sayago.
The ethnographic investigation spent three years analysing email use habits of close to 400 people between 64 and 80 years-old in social centres in Barcelona.
"In this context, ethnography consists of spending a lot of time with the users in real-life interaction situations, observing how they use the technology, speaking with them (informal conversations, interviews in groups or individually), and taking notes on almost everything", explained Sayago.
"Older people feel motivated to use ICT as they see it as an important element for feeling part of contemporary society and fighting against the isolation that can increase with age", explained the study.
Researchers have shown that older people use email within a restricted circle of two different social groups-relatives (a few emails a month, but which are detailed and emotional) and close friends (more frequent and exchanging information based on their social life).
"They use email to communicate with their social circles; they don't use it as a means of establishing relationships with people they don't know. For this, they have other more down to earth strategies in their lives such as going to a social centre to a dance, and meeting people there", confirmed the researcher.
There are three prototypes of email managers designed for older people-SeniorMail, which proposes a redesign of the email manager Outlook Express; Simple Mail, a simulated email system with a user interface simplified to five functions, and Cybrarian, based on fewer functions and an increase in the size of the features.
"We have observed that making it easier and remembering the steps to perform tasks is more important than increasing the size of the elements on the interface. This is clear from the importance that older people place on their independence. They don't want to depend on someone else to be able to send an email and they want to use the same mechanisms as other people", explained the researcher.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.