A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
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Taking the older adult tech pulse in 2010
Ho, ho, ho-hum: more older adults use the Internet. Maybe 2011 will be the year I stop whining about older adults not being online. Pew just released its Generations Online 2010 report -- one of the few data sets that breaks the 65+ population down into subgroups. Surveyed in the spring, Pew reports that now online are: 76% of aged 56-64, older baby boomers; 58% of the 65-73 age range (Silent Generation???? Silent about what?); and 30% of those age 74+ (GI Generation). These percentages are all up a bit from the slightly different categorizations from the 2009 report. And there's more:
Access must be painfully slow for most -- but still of value. For most, they will need to first drink a cup of coffee and wait to see that video sent by the grandkids. In terms of how speedy the experience is, à la broadband, the study indicates that 61% of older baby boomers, 44% of the 'Silents' and 20% of the 'GI's are now connected via broadband. Compare last year: just 13% of both of the older two online generations reported downloading videos. This year 44% and 20% respectively are watching videos online -- presumably those are the ones that have broadband connections. Connecting to others is important: among the online oldest age groups, social networking use has jumped: from 11 and 4 percent respectively, to 34 and 16 percent.
Some activities are compelling -- who knew that 'rating things' matters. After e-mail, in the oldest age groups, searching dominates the activity list today. More of those aged 65-73 are now looking for health info -- 76% in 2010, up from 70% in 2009. In the oldest online group (age 74+), 57% are buying a product online, up from 47% in 2009, and 35% of that group now bank online, up from 24% in 2009. Pew also offered up a very interesting heat map of activity emphasis -- for the 65-73 year olds, 'Rate things' ranked in the top ten list of activities after e-mail -- doesn't that make you eager to see more participation among older adults, let's say on consumer complaint sites, pressuring sellers to provide better and more communicative service and make tolerable packaging?
The Pew research panel surveys offer so much -- but let's ask for more. I am extremely grateful that Pew offers age breakdowns past 50 -- so many other surveys lump and clump all in a 65+ bucket. That said, we want to know more. For the older age groups who have broadband or wireless access, how much does it cost them, do they also have or are considering a smart phone? How many older adults have iPads, since Apple plans never to tell us? Among the reasons for not going online, how does that break down by age? For those who say it is too expensive (10% of non-users), what do they perceive the barrier price to be?
Marketplace device proliferation will exhaust prospective upgraders. Many folks I speak with believe that when baby boomers are older, in their mid-70's or beyond, they will 'take their tech with them,' and so resistance to tech among older adults will evaporate. Maybe not. The pace of change is accelerating, but the desire to keep spending and relearning, reading the manual and re-installing, swiping and re-typing, maybe that will dissipate as we age. I called Best Buy recently and tried to pin them down on how many steps were involved in setup of Internet-enabled TVs, the only type of TV they are rumored to be selling come January. Answer -- at least 5, not for the faint of heart, Geek Squad, hint hint. Or you could try this eHow 5-step article which the writer amusingly characterizes as 'easy'.
Aging is becoming more connected, but connecting the devices more daunting. It's a looming conundrum. We clearly want and need to be 'online' in some capacity. But we are entering a new and nasty period where devices and access mechanisms are multiplying like weeds -- and these weeds are mostly aimed at the young and determined. Product developers design in the image of their squeaky selves, devices destined to be inadequate or uncool in the shortest possible timeframe. Ain't it just grand that there are 15 different tablet competitors coming soon to a store near you, that if you get sick of the tiny buttons on your smart phone, you can drown in Droid choices; that as laptop screens for movie watching get larger, carry on space is getting smaller, wireless routers are baffling? And that extracting yourself from your phone contract -- so that you can change providers to better hear the call -- might cost as much or more than the phone you might buy?
I hope that in future Pew Research studies, there will be a way to tease out whether there is growing discomfort with the pace of tech change.