Despite the huge digital divide among seniors in America, there’s room for optimism according to a recent report discussed at a joint press conference on July 13th.
Tom Kamber, Founder and Executive Director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Alison Bryant, PhD, Senior Vice President of Research for AARP, reported on the post pandemic state of digital equity for older adults.
There were some surprisingly optimistic findings, even though there is still a huge digital divide for older people in America. “More than 22 million older adults do not have wireless broadband at home right now,” Kamber stated.
Getting and Staying Connected
Connectivity now is more important than ever. The pandemic proved that older adults who do have internet make very good use of it. Being locked down for a year forced older adults to adopt technology overnight – it was the only way to stay connected to family and the outside world.
“Covid showed us what was possible.”
-Tom Kamber, Founder and Executive Director of OATS
“OATS always assumed that seniors needed coaching to use technology but what’s interesting is how many older adults solved technical issues for themselves and just found a way to do it during the pandemic,” said Kamber. “Covid showed us what was possible. We were trying to put classes online for years with mixed success. When Covid started we got all our courses revamped and delivered. What was shocking was that it worked really well. We’ve had much higher participation then before the pandemic.”
Signs of Progress
Kamber and Bryant reported some encouraging findings and statistics about digital equity:.
- The steep tech cliff drop-off by age became a slower slide. Around the age of 70 older adults are less likely to purchase or use all devices. However last year there actually were increases in the 70+ group in tech adoption. Wearable use almost doubled; tablet use went up to 53%. Older adults used more tablets than people under 50. Smartphones jumped 15% in usage, especially with people 70+. Some 77% of people over 70 have smartphones, a 15% jump. Even smartphone shopping online has increased substantially among the 70+ population.
- Female users are leading the technology charge, using it to stay connected to family and friends. Women used social media platforms every single day. The pandemic was driving it but they are still continuing to do video chats, texting, phone calls. There’s a 33% increase in every form of communication. It’s not a blip. Women are gaming, getting health and fitness info online.
- Older Adults are moving from cable to streaming TV. There’s a 20% drop in cable TV usage and the switch to streaming has increased from 40% to 60%.
- Seniors love the “cool factor.” “It feels great to remember party lines, little TV’s, even Dick Tracy watches and marvel at the miracle of Zoom meetings and huge flat screen TVs, and smart watches that make real phone calls,” noted Kamber.
“The ability to access and effectively use technology has become critical for everyone in this age.”
-Alison Bryant, PhD, Senior Vice President of Research for AARP
More left to do
Despite these advances, there is still much work to be done emphasized AARP’s Alison Bryant. “The ability to access and effectively use technology has become critical for everyone in this age. It’s important that companies and society increase the opportunities for more lifelong digital literacy efforts and consider older adults in their innovative offerings from the start.”
Tom Kamber concluded, “technology gives us a lens into powerful changes. The story is of people coming through the pandemic and using technology to survive. We really don’t know what the future will hold now that technology has made so many social changes.”
Do you – or someone you know – need help getting connected? Here are some resources:
The Aging Connected Initiative: Seniors who can’t afford access to technology can turn to Senior Planet’s Aging Connected initiative. More info on Aging Connected, which can help low-income seniors, can be found here.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB): This FCC program helps families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. For an easy walk-through of the EBB program, how it works and how to apply, visit Senior Planet’s Aging Connected website here.
During the pandemic , I went to my neighborhood grocery store for a mere 15 minutes. Unfortunately I stuffed my phone in my coat pocket , and when I got home I realized It had obviously fallen out somewhere . Unfortunately I had turned the volume way down during a meeting and forgot to turn it back up. So even tho my “ Find my iPhone” worked , I couldn’t call the phone effectively.
During this time I found nothing in the APPLE manual that was helpful. I was desperate and joined the iPhone Apple help community . They all tried very hard to be helpful. I also went out to the two stores I had been in during the outing, searched them , and posted a “ Reward” sign .
Later that day , When a fellow who has found my phone called me to get his reward and give me my phone, I found that the battery on the phone was down to 7% . It was a very close call . In another hour , I never would have found my phone . My. Rescuer fellow never heard any sound , but since I learned to write a message on the face of the phone and post my home phone number., he saw that information on my phone and called .
I came to realize that my nightmare was aided the most by having access to an informal help community .
My idea: I think Senior Planet should form a Senior Planet Tech Saviors page or something similar so that in a crisis , we would all have more options to learn remedies. ( Note : This idea of a resource community has come of age . For example , there is a company called “Next Door”, founded by the former CIO of Square, which offers an example of Such a resource since they organize communities of people living in the same local neighborhood who serve as resources for each other as as references for doctors, tailors, handymen, etc. I know that in the early vaccine hysteria days of the pandemic in NYC , people in NYC shared immediate and important practical information about where to find the vaccine .on Next Door .
Let’s make Senior Planet more valuable as a tech support resource!
I am a very active former Fortune 500 executive and Ph.D. In my 70’s . I do not have memory issues. I was appalled at how limited the Apple iPhone on line manual was . In retrospect I guess I should have called Apple . To this day I don’t recall how I figured things out as well as I did . But in the whole it was a terrifying experience .
P.s. Never turn down the volume on your phone without having a foolproof alarm system In place to remind you to turn it back up.