Chapter 1 – Introduction
From the early 1960s onward the world has witnessed the increasing sophistication of electronic technology. Variously, it has revolutionised the work place and changed how and even whether, people work. In today's world, the number of applications where electronic technology is used is staggering and seemingly omnipresent. One only needs to take a cursory look around to see the scale of its presence. To name just a few applications, technology can be found in the form of the personal computer (the most common and widely referred to device used in modem working life), but can also be seen in manufacturing and even in the cars we drive.
With the advance of technology in society there has been a growing body of literature on its impact on society, and how it has changed the way people live and work. Although the literature on technology is vast with
different views on how society has been impacted, there is little doubt on at least two outcomes - that technology will make further inroads in the work place and that, in doing so, it will invariably have its winners and losers (Rifkin 1995). The former, typically, are those who have embraced new technology either as employers or workers. Conversely the latter are those who have been displaced by technology or have failed to keep pace with its applications in the work place. Such is the gap which is emerging with the spread of technology that, indeed, modem social research has coined the term 'digital divide' to describe the widening gap between those with access and the ability to use technology and those who do not.
Although any group in society can find themselves distanced or alienated from technology, either in a physical or intellectual sense, some research has found that some groups are increasingly becoming more so than others (Buys and Buys 1995).
One of those groups now gaining more attention are older people - who are the subject of this study. For the purpose of the study this cohort is described as people aged 45 and over, as is the case in many studies on older workers (e.g. Buys and Buys 1995, Bennington and Tharenou 1997a & 1997b), and by official statistical bureaus such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This benchmark to describe older workers, however, is actually a somewhat arbitrary one. Indeed, in some studies, an older person is sometimes regarded as someone as young as 30 (The Sunday Mail 1999). For the purpose of this study, the term will be a flexible one, which will refer to those aged 45 and over as the standard benchmark - in keeping with the standard definition of 'older age' in most of the literature - but will also refer separately to workers above this age. A precursory examination of statistical information used later suggests that a rigid definition of an 'older' person is
probably inappropriate in some circumstances. Obviously, such a changing definition of the term 'older' will need to be specified, as will the reasons for it.