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Pew Research underscores the tech isolation of real seniors

The majority of real seniors are not online.   The Pew technology survey is up to date – and it is a reflection that tech, training, and perception of benefit have a ways to go with real seniors – aged 75+. Fewer than half (47%) of the 75-79 age group and 37% of the 80+ are online.  And if they were, most do not have broadband access at home. And among the 65+, the song and dance about ease of use of smart phones and tablets is not resonating – 40% of seniors say that physical challenges make some activities difficult – and for those, even fewer go online. And for all the social pressure and media assumptions about online use, non-users do not believe they are at a real disadvantage.

The device divide is striking.  The needle has barely moved since the last Pew survey when it comes to tablets and smart phones. Smart phone device developers and retailers are not smart about selling them to seniors, even those with money and a college education.  Overall adoption among the 65+ for each is still only 18%, and even for those with $75,000 or more in income, only 42% have smart phones. Compare that to the general population with that income level – it is 76%. Ditto with tablets – the needle has not budged – 18% overall of the 65+ own a tablet – and of those with higher incomes, only 39% thought it was worth it.

Training matters – even for Facebook. Seniors worry about the difficulty of emulating what they see – and watching ads does not encourage them. See young people staring down at their phones, swiping to sign in, finding each other near restaurants, listening to smarmy machine-generated voices offering turn-by-turn directions. Arghh – 77% of the Pew senior responders -- inclusive of those who already have smartphones and tablets, inclusive of the younger, that is 65-75, age group -- believe they will need to assistance to become comfortable with their devices. And that includes (justifiable) worry about Facebook and minimal use of that non-sensical Twitter – even among Internet users – only 24% of those users feel comfortable about using these'‘social media' tools without assistance.

What’s it mean that the needle hasn’t moved? The 2010 census reported that there are more people age 65+ than at any time in history – 40 million. Yet their technology usage of the latest and greatest is not growing year over year – why?  Seniors can certainly recognize themselves in advertising that targets them – see AARP publications for examples. But the cool devices and social media mavens do not show seniors, do not talk about them, or show any signs of interest in this population.  Is this ageist on the part of tech companies?  Certainly.  Are products still difficult to use in comparison to a mouse and computer? Apparently. Even with training offered by AARP and others, however, we need a better case for why using tablets, smart phones and social media really matters.  Useful to find information when away from the house, unbeatable for connecting in real time and staying current with families, tablets represent the most significant improvement in ease of use in the past 30 years.  Yet seniors aren’t buying into that theory – and according to this survey, they are not buying the devices. What's your theory?


According to my 85 year old sister," Give me Alexander Graham Bell, when I want to connect with you." She has a tablet, two laptops and never goes on line.
They isolate themselves.

I find that most of the computer /tech using seniors I see used computers in their working environment or they are extremely intellectually curious.

After my husband died, I had to find full time work and took a couple of courses in word processing, went to work for a computer company, and have had my own computer for 20+ years. I use a flip top 5 yr old Nokia cell phone but that is all I want it for - to make and receive calls. I don't need to become too computer literate beyond what I already know because everyone in my family works with them in some capacity or other. Online banking is the greatest thing since sliced bread, as I don't have to go to a bank for anything anymore except on the rarest occasion. I use a Nook ebook to read, as my eyesight needs the larger print it affords, but that is the extent of it. I'm 81.

I love your posts, informative with just the right touch of skepticism. As a former owner of a 250 client home health agency, none of my clients had the ability to use cell phones or any type of PC. Yet, many of them are the ones that live alone and have become isolated and, therefore, the ones that would benefit from some of the technology available.

This is where, I think, technology providers have failed.

Hi Laurie, I have been following your blog for years as I love your perspective and fantastic research. My background is in technology which I have used as a foundation for my photo organizing business. For over nine years I have been helping clients organize their loose materials, scan the materials, and then train them on how to access their digital archive. Most of my client base is 55 yrs+ (up to 90!) and I am requested more and more to teach by all age groups. My goal is to empower students to understand how their computer is set-up, how to change the preferences if they don't like them, and slowly learn how to access and use it in every day life. (Mostly with photos and video but it always extends to email, display settings, etc.) I just love what I do and am happy to think I am helping a bit with the tech education movement. Thanks! Molly

Manufacturers assume that everyone, regardless of age, approaches smart portable devices the same way. What's "plug and play" to a thirty-five year-old is daunting to a senior. Marketers have to develop age-specific promotions and devise inexpensive, entry-level programs of instructional support.

Laurie, excellent points as always. I appreciated your note that seniors can see themselves in advertising.

The agency I work for (Creating Results) develops advertising and websites for older adults. When we surveyed 800+ "Social, Silver Surfers," we asked them if they saw themselves in websites. Specifically, do typical websites reflect the lifestyles, needs or values of people their age?

The older the adult, the less likely they are to see themselves. 70% of 40-44 year olds said yes, websites usually reflect their age group. Compare that figure to 24% of 75+ers. Satisfaction went down from our 2010 survey.

Seniors need both training to help them know *how* to use tech and relevant, relate-able content to make them *want* to use it.

Too many gadgets, bells and whistles not directed at what the person needs...signal to noise ratio unfavorable. Nor purpose-streamlined. Even a portable GPS device to talk through directions has too many options. I want a GPS device with "senior mode" which only searches by name (and similar name for spelling), and maybe even avoids freeways and crossing busy roads without stop lights.

Honestly, so many tech gadgets are time wasters and too intrusive. My years are going by fast enough without wasting more time using gadgets I do not need. I use a computer at work because I have to, and for very little social networking with family and a few close friends. I don't have a smartphone, nor do I want one. Some of us aren't isolating ourselves, we just want some peace and quiet. We enjoy conversations (verbal) with real people and we still know how to read a map or directions, often arriving ahead of our GPS-using friends. We need not be constantly entertained, and we experience so much more of this world around us because we're not staring at tiny little screens all the time. We're not buying because we don't want to.

HI Laurie,
Another excellent article on technology and seniors and the large disparity between what media tells us and the facts of use from the seniors.
Currently I teach seniors facebook, gmail, and safe online shopping. I'm looking to expand that beyond the one place I have been doing it for more than 1.5 years now. The big problem I see is that places - ie: senior communities and assisted living places don't see the importance in this. Any advice of specific ways to help me to get them see the advantage to doing this? Perhaps I need to talk to the Senior Administrator or other higher up's, as opposed to the activities and program directors.
Thanks so much!


Laurie, I'm enjoying catching up on all of your great posts so don't be surprised if I send more comments. I also enjoy reading the comments and threads in response. Such a polite and smart exchange. While there is certainly a technology divide there is also a norms and values divide as well. Being on tech is one thing, how it is actually used is entirely another and in fact, I think it is vastly being misused by our world. The twentysomethings behind many of the popular platforms (i.e. sounds like Disgracebook) have values so very different than The Greatest Generation. My parents were mortified to learn how they are being tracked, photos scanned using facial recognition, and personal data is being sucked up by the folks behind the scenes. Sadly, the popular press doesn't cover the questionable business practices which are antithetical to what my parents taught me. So in my opinion, being connected via tech is indeed a good thing but equal emphasis should be put on how to properly use it and the social etiquette that should follow. Our world is formed by the depth of our relationships with one another and I certainly don't define mine by 140 characters or what devices I own (and yes, I own a lot).


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