It’s a puzzlement – finding the organizations trying to get older adults online. Last June I wrote a post about getting older adults online – in particular, the age range from 75 and beyond – only 34% of those folks were online at that time. Yet so many organizations offer online assistance in coping with a variety of concerns of older adults, whether it is taxpayer assistance, help with online banking, obtaining coupons for grocery savings, even a Geek Squad coupon from AARP -- and it is, naturally, available online! -- to help with problems that older adults might have using computers. Duh. And a new campaign, Everyone On, has produced Connect2Compete, a public-private partnership that has been launched to help low-income individuals cross the digital divide – but only if they have a child on the ‘federal free and reduced-cost lunch programs.'
Help poor children gain online skills, such a good idea, but what about seniors? One-third of women aged 65+ live exclusively on Social Security income – which averages $12,500. Are they part of efforts to get 'everyone on'? That seems unlikely, given the cost of devices (iPad mini costs more than $300), Internet Service plans ($30-40/month at low end), and technical support ($49.99 for 90 minutes in-home from Best Buy) – and the reality of their income. Further, if they survive to age 65+, they are going to live, on average, another twenty years – with one in four women surviving past 90. Will they have access to all (or any) of those discount and service benefits described above? The Linkage Technology survey in 2011 found that those seniors with incomes lower than $25,000/year were not willing to pay for technology – but they wished they could afford it – this comment was typical: "I am interested in the new technology, but I am unable to pay because I am on a fixed income."
Who should help the oldest gain those benefits that can be found online? So in that ever-longer survival period past 65, when social security checks must be direct-deposited, when there are no more paper savings bonds, when the concept of a physical coupon is migrating online, and where the yellow pages of business and service options may soon disappear, seniors will live long enough to lose more of these artifacts of their lives. So who has the constituency and the clout to lobby governments to change this? Who could work with private industry on efforts like the kids-only EveryoneOn program, and carriers (who own the broadband kingdom and set the price of access) to enable significant movement for the 65+ from that pathetic 53% online in 2012 to 100% online by 2020? And if no broadband is available where they live, will all seniors go to places that have WiFi like McDonalds (11,000 locations), Panera Bread (1565 stores) or Starbucks (17,000+) to gain access? Judging by the crowds clogging these shops with their computers and coffee, maybe the 100% goal really should be propelled forward by the restaurant industry. But for those who have no usable and portable device, are homebound or can’t get to one of these stores, or don’t know how to connect, there must be another solution that can move this needle faster. Comments welcome.