“We will not be silenced!” asserts my friend with clinched fist and a tone that echoes past protests familiar to many who have achieved senior citizen status. Today she is denouncing the myth that seniors don’t – and theoretically can’t– learn to use technology. The pernicious myth, long debunked by reality, subtly relegates those of an age to the virtual shelf – as if they themselves were virtual.
My friend’s adamant rant continues – “We marched for peace, demanded equal pay, fought for civil and voting rights, created the tools that shaped the information age” (There’s more that’s better left unquoted here.) ) Her vehemence recalls the immortal words of Twisted Sister, idol of a pre-digital age “We ain’t gonna take it anymore!”
Researcher Rod P. Githens of the University of Illinois Urbana introduces his study of “Older Adults and E-Learning” with two poignant caveats 1) We often attribute rigidity to age rather than personality, though Nichols (2001) points out rigidity ‘is less a factor of age than of personal history, pressure, and predisposition,” and 2) “attributing rigidity to age is just as damaging as attributing negative stereotypes to other groups.”
In the information age it’s all about statistics. Another caveat: Though statistics may not lie, they definitely lag. There are numerous studies and a wide range of statistics on seniors’ use of technology. Some samples:
- A 2010 study by the AARP includes some basics facts, e.g.Two out of five (40%) age 50 and over consider themselves extremely (17%) or very (23%) comfortable using the Internet.
- 37% of those surveyed use social media with Facebook being by far the most popular (23%)
- Of the seniors who are connected 62% are connected with their children, 36% with their grandchildren, and 73% with other relatives
Aging Online, a blog managed by Jamie Cannacher, offers some fun stats re seniors and technology in an article irresistibly titled “Four cool boomer technology stats you don’t know.”
- People age 55 and up pick passwords that are twice as secure as teenagers, according to research data pulled from 70 million Yahoo! Users.
- Smartphone usage among Boomers (age 45 to 54) grew 16 percent last year – falling just behind young people (age 18-24) whose usage of smartphones grew 18 percent.
- Social media usage by people age 65 and older grew 50 percent during the last two years, according to a report rom Experian.
- 13 percent of people age 50 and older are Twitter users
Within the past hour I received a hot off the wireless a post from Aging Online, a quick piece with another irresistible title “Last week was big for new data on how seniors use the web.”
Briefly, Forrester Research, a privately operated research company, just released updated statistics including these facts about the mores of seniors who are online. Though the full report is designed for Forrester clients and other paid customers, a few extrapolated stats suggest an upward trend worthy of note:
- 91% of online seniors use email,
- 71% go online daily
- 59% have purchased products online in the past three months,
- 46% share photos by email,
- 44% play solo games online, and
- 24% sign up for coupons and freebies online
Though Aging Online is just one of several up-to-the-minute windows on the latest scoop on techno-savvy or digitally deprived seniors, it is a starting point to the vast possibilities.
Some thoughts on seniors and technology:
- Americans are reaching the magic age of “senior” (however that may be defined) at a staggering rate.
- The definition of senior all depends – It can be anything from 50+ to the age of retirement or another category that suggests “older elderly.” As always, statistical analysis varies with definition of the population surveyed.
- A historic fact that intrigues me is that many senior retirees, e.g. military retirees, clerical workers, accountants, who have received training and used technology for decades may associate computers with workplace drudgery rather than the freedom of everyday living as a retiree. They may leave the computer at the office because of cost, ready access or because they have had too much of a good thing.
- Children and grandchildren are generally touted as the best tutors of older family members. Though I have discovered no statistical confirmation, I would posit that they are not only proximate and patient, but that they are “on call” when Grandpa hits a digital roadblock.
- Those with an interest in bridging the generation gap should check out Cyber-Seniors, producer of documentary films tell the stories of seniors and teens working in tandem. The premise of Cyber-Seniors is this: “A history book can only teach you so much. Today’s kids and seniors have an opportunity to share so much more with each other by trading off history lessons for computer lessons. The way technology is changing at a rapid pace today, with our devices becoming more intuitive and easier to use, this could be the last time we need a generation gap that’s so obvious. We’re growing up with it and keeping pace. Future studies about technology might not focus so much on age, but instead on access and economic status.”
- More important, future studies about technology should focus on content, not to how to manipulate the tools but how to shape the issues, evaluate the sources, relate research to practice, make wise and informed decisions. Access is an essential “baby step” on the long path to information literacy for all ages.
My friend is right to demand recognition of seniors’ technology acumen and receptivity to change. She and her superannuated colleagues deftly couple decades of life experience with the need, will and tools to speak and be heard. The rapidly expanding ranks of thoughtful people “of an age” will not – and should not – be silent in this information age.