6/26/23 · Technology

Getting older in Silicon Valley (and the world): digital ageism in the heart of the tech revolution

According to the WHO, one in two people worldwide discriminate against older people because of their age and, in Europe, one in three people acknowledge that they have experienced ageism
A new book written and coordinated by two UOC faculty members and researchers explores how ageism is present on all fronts of the digital revolution
Ageism is a form of social discrimination based on age. (Foto: Adobe Stock)

Ageism is a form of social discrimination based on age. (Foto: Adobe Stock)

"I'm old, but I'm not an idiot." This is the slogan under which Carlos San Juan de Laorden, from Valencia, started the revolution against overlooking older people in the process of accelerated digitization in banks. His voice was soon echoed by hundreds of thousands of people across the country and ended up reaching the Spanish Council of Ministers just over a year ago. But banking and its online channels are not the only ones that have overlooked older people: ageism is present on all sides of digital technologies, from the exclusion of certain user groups to the labour market.

Mireia Fernández Ardèvol, researcher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya's (UOC) IN3, expert in digitization and older people, and member of the UOC's Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences teaching digital communication, and Andrea Rosales, researcher at the Communication Networks & Social Change (CNSC) group and member of the UOC's Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences, together with Jakob Svensson, professor and researcher at Malmö University, explore the subject in the open access book entitled Digital Ageism. How it Operates and Approaches to Tackling it. In this book, some 30 experts analyse how digital ageism is invisibly present in our society and, in particular, in the mecca of the tech revolution: Silicon Valley.

Ageism and digital technologies

Ageism is a form of social discrimination based on age. It affects all kinds of people, but particularly older people. "In contemporary capitalist societies, work and productivity are central themes. The moment you stop participating in the labour market, or if you've never participated in it, society sidelines you. Under this logic, a person only matters when they contribute productively," explained Mireia Fernández Ardèvol. Based on this idea, a relationship of exclusion is created, which places older people who are not productive on the fringes of society.

"Moreover, our societies consider old age to be a burden, and what they reward is youth," added the UOC expert. "Ageism, although it's very obvious and deeply rooted in our societies, remains invisible," said Fernández Ardèvol. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in two people worldwide discriminate against older people because of their age and, in Europe, one in three people acknowledge they have experienced ageism.

According to the Global report on ageism by the WHO, ageism has serious consequences for people's health, well-being and human rights. Among older people in particular, ageism is associated with shorter life expectancy, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability and increased cognitive decline. Ageism also increases social isolation and loneliness among older people, restricts their ability to express their sexuality, and may increase the risk of violence and abuse.


Ageism is particularly pronounced in the environment of digitalization. "Digital technologies have always been associated with youth, right from the beginning, and are mostly designed by young people with a particular life context. Moreover, digital technologies are associated with productivity and the world of work," explained Mireia Fernández Ardèvol. "In the whole process of digitization, we've forgotten about people who are neither studying nor working. Unfortunately, this means that older people aren't the target of the digital revolution, as they aren't part of the productive sector," she added.

To reduce ageism, the WHO report notes that there is a need to invest in science-based strategies, improve data and research to better understand ageism, and encourage a change in the discourse around age and ageing. "In the digital field, we need to think in terms of universal design and listen to the voice of these groups, include older people in each stage, from public policy discussions to service design and user testing," concluded the expert in mobile communication, older people and ICT.

Ageism in Silicon Valley: exclusion in the tech industry

Silicon Valley is a region in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area that today is home to more than 2,000 tech companies. But Silicon Valley is also an idea, a concept originating at Stanford University that has become a symbol of innovation and technological revolution around the world. Silicon Valley is where the future is made, only it is a future created mostly by young, white men from a particular social background.

"The sexist and ageist origins of digital culture in California have been perpetuated over time. The corporate culture of Silicon Valley challenges the worker to change the world and break barriers, and identifies more with a young entrepreneur and a tireless worker than with a worker who has to pick up their children from school at five in the afternoon," explained Andrea Rosales. "Venture investment funds that finance technology start-ups are looking for that young and challenging spirit, based on role models such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who created great companies when they were very young and put in long working hours," she added.

Today, because of these origins and the sector's human resource challenges, the tech culture is fairly homogeneous in terms of age, ethnicity and gender. According to the UOC expert, this is coupled with cultural perceptions, biases and expectations that older tech workers are going to be less passionate, have more difficulty processing information and learning new things, and show less interest in technology in general. From there, from Silicon Valley, digital ageism spreads throughout the rest of the tech world.

"Silicon Valley has promoted corporate programmes that present workplaces as playgrounds, with office perks and team building activities, underscoring the company's business values as a family, merging personal life with corporate goals," said Andrea Rosales. "Devoted passion for work and the workplace most often caters to a young tech worker, a paradigm that's taken hold in tech companies internationally and persists even with remote work," she added.

"The first step to breaking out of this framework is to raise more awareness about the stereotypes that shape interpersonal relationships and, particularly, age stereotypes, and how these shape work relationships in tech companies," noted Andrea Rosales. "We can't believe that all programmers should change roles after the age of 35 and that being a programmer isn't compatible with having a life of one's own," she concluded.

This UOC research supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 10, Reduce inequality within and among countries.



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and more than 50 research groups work in the UOC's seven faculties, its eLearning Research programme and its two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The university also develops online learning innovations at its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.

Open knowledge and the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu.

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