May 17, 2017 Last Updated 1:02 pm

Pew finds most older Americans using the Internet, but also ‘largely disconnected from the digital revolution’

Report from the Pew Research Center also finds ‘a majority of seniors do not use social media, and the share that do is considerably smaller than that of the general population’

The latest report from the Pew Research Center on tech adoption by seniors was very encouraging: Pew doesn’t classified me as a senior, at least not yet. Phew! But the report, as usual has outstanding information in it for publishers, which is why I do not hesitate to post about it here.

The report shows that older Americans have eagerly adopted many of the latest technologies important to digital publishers, including smartphones and tablets.

“Around four-in-ten (42%) adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013. Internet use and home broadband adoption among this group have also risen substantially,” wrote the authors of the report, Aaron Smith, Monica Anderson and Dana Page. “Today, 67% of seniors use the internet – a 55-percentage-point increase in just under two decades. And for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.”

Still, Pew concludes that “many seniors remain largely disconnected from the digital revolution” citing the fact that one-third of adults 65 and older still do not use the Internet, while half do not have broadband where they live.

I’m not sure these are very bad numbers, however. Many seniors live in places such as retirement communities and nursing homes where such services are not in demand… at least not now. Plus, and this is a point I think many miss today: having a smartphone means, generally, having a speedy Internet connection. As a Comcast customer I know that when speeds slow, or service stops altogether, I immediately create a hotspot with my iPhone and get speeds not that different than what my cable ISP provides me.

I found the information on social media use particularly interesting. Here is where many people get their news, or are linked to news services.

Among seniors, social media use is still fairly low, though it is increasing.

“Today, 34% of Americans ages 65 and up say they ever use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. This represents a seven-point increase from 2013, when 27% of older adults reported using social media. Still, a majority of seniors do not use social media, and the share that do is considerably smaller than that of the general population,” the report said.

One assumes that middle aged Americans will take their social media use into old age — the question is whether the social media outlets used today will still be around at that time (and because of this, older social media users might abandon the platform).

Not surprisingly, older adults are less confident with technology. Pew’s question in this regard I found to be awkward, but gets at the problem.

“Around three-quarters of Americans ages 65 and up say the statement, ‘When I get a new electronic device, I usually need someone else to set it up or show me how to use it,’ describes them either very (48%) or somewhat (25%) well.”

Only 17 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 say this describes them very well or somewhat well.

My mother recent died while in a nursing home at a very advanced age. I had given her a tablet, and she had a cell phone. Her efforts to master a smartphone did not go well, while she used her tablet mostly for playing card games. In other words, she never really mastered the technology.

I feel as those she was only a few years too late in this regard. Had the iPhone, for instance, come out in 2000, rather than 2007, she might have been able to use the device to place FaceTime calls, surf the web, etc. But this was simply too much for her at her age.

This is why I think it is important to know where we are right now with reaching seniors, but also where we might be in the near future. Older readers make up a disproportionate percentage of newspaper readers. Younger readers will need to be reached to make sure they take the reading habit into old age. But will they want the content in the same formats today’s seniors want it and feel most comfortable with?

Download the full report here.

Photo: Reading by AO’D used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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