And what about other elders you know? Are they all online?
About a month ago, the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science & Tech released their latest survey about internet usage, something they have been measuring regularly since 2000.
”For some groups, especially young adults, those with high levels of education, and those in more affluent households, internet penetration is at full saturation levels.” reports Pew.
You might have guessed that for low income and low educational achievement groups, internet adoption is much lower. And so it is for elders too:
”Older adults have lagged behind younger adults in their adoption, but now a clear majority (58%) of senior citizens [65 and older] uses the internet.”
Fifty-eight percent??? ONLY 58 percent? Up from 14 percent in 2000? Pew makes it sound like this is good news. Here's a chart from Pew to put that in perspective next to other age groups:
That's a dismal internet adoption rate for old people. Probably some elders are just stubbornly resistant but there are other reasons.
We are a privileged group of elders, you and me, because as Laurie Orlov, who runs the estimable Aging in Place Technology Watch blog, points out
“Broadband cost today averages $90/month for high speed and related services. Oh, and 12.5 million (29%) of the 65+ do not have a computer (see census) to bring to Starbucks.
“Buying a still-pricey tablet may soon become obsolete in the favor of newer smartphones. The data plan for smartphones that replace other gear is more than $100 from major carriers. Per month,” she writes.
That puts the hardware and/or internet service out of the reach of many old people. Ms. Orlov further explains the now crucial importance of the internet in everyday life:
”Access to the Internet in 2015 is an essential – like food, work and transportation. Find a job, search for a health problem like yours, learn a skill, locate a ride, buy a house, vacation, or used car. Book a trip, a restaurant, or find a repair shop. This is not your Internet of 2000.
“Today’s Internet has disintermediated nearly all other ways [to] find answers to any of those questions – including the library (except as an Internet access point). You see coffee shops crowded with WiFi users who can’t pay for broadband. Why are they at Starbucks? It's not for the coffee.”
I would add to Orlov's list of essential internet services, telemedicine. The numbers are still small but growing quickly. My dentist does all scheduling and reminders via email and/or text message these days. The office of my primary care physician emails a link so I can see my test results online.
It won't be long, I suspect before I will be able to book my first video appointment with my physician. I am eagerly looking forward to it.
No one had yet invented a graphical browser when I got my first computer in the 1980s. At first, it took the place of a typewriter for me but before long I was able to find other people online.
In 1995, I got lucky. I was hired as managing editor at cbsnews.com, one of the first two news websites and I spent the next ten years working with talented 20-something programmers, developers and designers.
The first browser, Netscape, was brand new. Amazon and Google would come along within a year or two but there wasn't much anyone could do online yet except read.
Things have changed a lot since then. Perhaps you have noticed that, as Ms. Orlov points out, more and more stores, banks and government agencies are closing their real-world locations giving us no other way to contact them except the internet or, possibly but not easily, the telephone:
”So what’s happening to get the rest of those seniors online?” asks Orlov. “Are you seeing broadband plan discounts for people aged 65+, let alone the 17 million real seniors aged 75+?
“If life expectancy at 65 averages 88.8 for women and includes those with significant chronic disease, how do they find resources needed to survive without a) access to the Internet or b) committed family who will act as their online proxy?
“What is the government policy proposal that addresses this audience? And what are the carriers, Google, Facebook, Apple, or any other large tech Peter Pan innovators doing about it?”
Good questions and as far as I can tell, the answer is nothing.
For all the reasons Laurie Orlov discusses, we must find ways to make the internet easily available to all old people. Like it or not, essential life services now take place online – sometimes only online.