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AARP 2021 Tech Trends Survey -- is the tech glass half empty?

First the ‘good news’ about tech adoption…  According to AARP’s newest technology adoption report, just published, older adults are positive about the role technology can play in their lives during and after Covid-19. They are chatting via video, using social media livestreams and modernizing their technology. They are buying smart TVs, costly smartphones, and earbuds.  The survey reports that 20% of the 70+ age range owns a wearable, possibly a smartwatch. Also notable, considering that most wearables are still paired with them, smartphone ownership, according to this survey, has risen most sharply among those aged 70+, with 77% of responders indicating they own one. This is a number worth questioning, however, since Pew Research's most recent mobile fact sheet indicates that only 61% of the 65+ have smartphones.

…However issues and concerns remain. As in previous surveys – confidence is lacking for some.  More than half of the 60+ age range would like a better grasp on technology to connect more easily with others. As with other surveys, they would like to learn new technology from someone they trust. Top barriers included privacy concerns (40%) and many responders lack (no surprise when you read this depressing New York Times analysis) understanding of privacy policies. Ironically, that article also has a link to the New York Times own privacy policy at the end, which is not, sadly, a quick read. 

And as one might expect, it costs too much to use connection services. Spending $269 on technology adds up to 16% of the household budget. That includes cable TV ($78), cellular phone service ($103), home internet ($68). Despite rapid growth (54 million homes have access), only 11% of the surveyed indicated connections through fiber.  And 60% noted that the cost of high-speed connection is a problem for them personally, with 20% of those aged 70+ indicating it was a major problem for them. And yet that's the way older adults will benefit from voice technologies like Alexa and more. 

The more things change…the more tech access methods deteriorate. Despite the growth in adoption among the surveyed population (which uses the NORC AmeriSpeak’s points reward online panel and Dynata’s telephone survey panel) the survey underlines the influence of Covid-19 social isolation on the buying behavior of technology. Desperate to connect, responders spent too much on tech access.  And it also confirms the 2020 Cost of Connectivity report which asserts that the cost is way too high.  But the cost is high for consumers in multiple ways.  Privacy worries, confusing rules and behaviors of online sites (default is ‘Opt in’ though you might want a choice), the relationship of marketers, selling you, in nearly every online interaction. Consider the effort required to train oneself on the apps and services available online; the questions about who to ask with questions.  And then there is the deliberate obfuscation about the use of your online behavior and patterns. Who gets this information and for what purpose? If you knew what sites like Google, Facebook and a myriad of other sites know about you, what would (or could) you change? 


Pew: Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted Jan. 25-Feb. 8, 2021.

AARP: Interviewing Dates: September 25 – October 20, 2020


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