Pew Research underscores the tech isolation of real seniors

There have been people at The Cloister who told me that “They don’t do computers.”

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?

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