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.