So internet use is up -- for almost everyone. The latest survey from Pew is out -- and Internet use among the 65+ age segment is up -- more than half of those surveyed say they are online. But that would be the age band from 65 to 75 -- sometimes referred to as the 'young old'. After 75, only 34% are online, and only one in five have home broadband. (As you must know by now, even reading this blog would be an endurance test at dial-up speeds -- and it has no graphics!) For the two-thirds of those aged 76 and beyond that are not online yet -- it seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Non-users in previous surveys said that to use the Internet would require training and help to go online. Yet non-users also indicated lack of relevance as a reason not to bother. But if they don't have the training to make it happen, it seems tough to determine if the content found there is relevant or not. Could be anything ranging from a WebMD symptom checker to discounts to health information from NCOA to free online courses offered by MIT. To me, that implies that action is required -- and it is more than the initiative by AARP and the Geek Squad.
Helping those online to become more proficient - that's happening. Tech support from the Geeks is great -- once older adults are in mid-battle with their boxes and batteries. But where is the getting-started effort that will fill in the remaining skill gaps? The National Council on Aging site's health information page is instructive -- asking if you have speakers attached to your computer, so that you can hear a course, but there is nothing on that site that shows recognition of the two-thirds of older adults who are NOT going to hear the course, no way, no how. Individual libraries, maybe; and volunteers in senior centers offer help in varying and ad-hoc ways. Some effort has been made to brainstorm ways to help the low-income elderly gain access to the internet. SeniorNet, which was originally founded thirty years ago to help seniors learn to use computers, is also trying to help the connected, well, connect more -- see GrandMentor program (read a book to a child via Skype, similar to Readeo) as an example.
So which organization will set a goal to close the gap? Today's initiatives seem well-intentioned but fragmented -- not organized towards a common mission: get 100% of older adults online so that they could access the services from the above that teach them how to do more -- but with greater access. The Project GOAL effort launched a few years ago has gone relatively quiet since last year. Perhaps there is a general perception among sponsors and members that little more needs to be done -- that online access growth (as Pew research indicates, now more than 50% among the 65+) is happening without further effort from any collective group. Will Verizon help by offering low cost access? Only if you buy Triple Play -- online. Which is really the point. You want to buy something, get a service, find a resource in any of a million different categories, the real 'library' of choices is online, not at the library. The excluded class of people are those whose life expectancy reaches out into that offline decade. Some group that sees seniors as its constituency, that has nationwide reach and the money to get the training set up in every region, that group should set the 100% goal. Who might that be? Suggestions are welcome.