The Ism Campaign
This Week in Elder News: 15 March 2008

Elder Technology Use

According to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

  • 75 percent of all Americans own a cell phone or personal data assistant (PDA)
  • 58 percent of adults have used a cell phone or PDA for at least one of ten non-voice activities

Those non-voice, wireless activities include email, texting, photos, web-surfing, playing music, playing a game, watching a video, getting directions or a map, instant messaging and recording a video.

The numbers, 75 percent and 58 percent, show how deeply wireless communication has penetrated the population, but they drop dramatically for older demographics. While 85 percent of 18-29 year olds have sent or received text messages, only 11 percent of people 65 and older have. And although 34 percent of the youngest group have recorded a video on a wireless device, only 3 percent of elders have. You can see graphic representations of all the stats in the Pew report [pdf].

Still, it is heartening to know that 29 percent of online users 65 and older have logged on away from work or home using a wireless laptop.

While elders lag behind young folks in adoption of technology, the numbers are remarkable when you remember that people older than 65 did not grow up with technology as the 20-somethings have and often, too, they retired before computers, cell phones, etc. were ubiquitous at work. They’ve had to teach themselves, sometimes with help from their adult children or grandchildren, but often not.

The most fun part of the survey asked which technologies would be very hard to give up. Among the 18-29 set, cell phones came in first at 62 percent; only 37 percent of those 65 and older agreed. The device hardest for elders to give up would be a landline telephone, 60 percnt, while only 25 percent of the youngest group cared about that.


I ditched my landline telephone several years ago and live with VoIP and a cell phone now. If I had to choose one, I’d take the cell phone. I like television for news and for entertainment when I’m tired, although I could easily turn it off permanently. But email and the internet are like heat and hot water; I could get by without them in extreme circumstances for short periods of time, but they are now essential to my daily life. What about you?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek will undoubtedly get a lot of clicks on My Sex Life in the Army.]


Your post rings true to me. We are currently paying too much for technology--1 landline, 2 cell phones, wireless tower originated internet and satellite television. I am embarrassed to say it is over $200 a month, partly because we are rural. We are thinking of returning to the basic plan on all of above except internet. We each have our own computer and we like speed. (Ages 62 & 63)

I would give up my land line and television but not internet or cell phone. With a teenager and a college student, everybody on weird schedules and just the way life is, I couldn't make it without a cell phone. I blog and shop via the internet, email is my lifeline, and I recently signed up with Facebook. Age: 58.

Sounds familiar here too. Mom and I constantly review our finances and what we might have to cut back on. We got rid of land lines a couple of years ago and went strictly with the cell phones. We have become increasingly disenchanted with the TV and have discussed cutting back or even cutting out. It would be missed a bit since we like to relax in the evening but often it is just background noise. The priorities are, right now, internet and cell phones. But we are always looking at what service we have and what we need. We don't really want to keep a calendar, watch video, or text on our phones. Those activities just don't fit with how we use the technology. I owned two different PDAs before I realized that I am not a PDA person. Give me a pencil and a paper calendar any day. What I find missing from all the surveys on who of what age uses what technology is any question of why we use what technology we do use. It is assumed, it seems to me, that the elders who don't text, watch video or whatever simply can't. That we are technologically incapable and not that we actively choose which technology to use and to what extent. Does anyone else get that feeling?

Your post raised some interesting points. When I think that my grandmother was afraid to pick up a telephone it shows how far technology has come just in my lifetime.
Although I'm not that good at computers I'm probably the most knowledgeable in our household - including my son and daughter - and I'd be lost without the internet and email.
Having a portable phone is a godsend but we need the landline because it's so much cheaper. If, one day, the cost of mobile calls becomes reasonable we won't need a landline at all.
Television is something we watch every evening because there's nothing else to do. I sometimes wish it would blow up but what would my husband and I do? We have no mutual interests, an 'early night' would mean just that (he hasn't been capable for years). 'Spose we could always play Scrabble. . . . .

I wish I could pick up the nerve to cancel my landline telephone, but I get nervous every time I think of doing that.

I have a cell phone but every month the bill is identical because I never use it. Not so the landline. Every month that bill is different because there are always mistakes on it; never in my favor.

I am happy we are discussing this because I have a question about telephone service through your cable provider. Can anyone tell me ,when your cable goes out for any reason, does your telephone go out,too?

I have never used wireless. I have cable TV and Internet service. I send and receive many Emails a day and in general, use my computer as an encyclopedia.No matter what I want to know the first place I go for information is my computer.

My very favorite use of the computer is for reading the interesting blogs that talented people like Ronni keep for us to read and comment on.

I will be 80 years old this year....

Ronni, how can you even imply that we grew up without technology? I distinctly remember having a mobile phone--in 1941! (Of course, we had to be careful not to snag the string, squash the cans, or lose the buttons!)

I have 1 landline (Hunky Husband has one, too), 2 computers (HH has 2), 2 PDAs--one that is also my cell phone (HH has the same--just different brand on the one non-cell phone PDA), 1 TV--with built-in CD player (HH has 2 TVs--one with VHS built in and one with stand-alone CD/VHS player/recorder), 1 ham-bands handi-talkie (HH has 1 + a multi-band fixed-base ham radio setup), and a multitude of radio-controlled clocks/clock-radios and CD players (HH has some, too, plus a heart-rate monitor with built-in GPS, for when he runs, and 2 GPS units for his car).

Of all this, the only things that I use daily are the radio-controlled clock-radio, my iPAQ, and one of my computers. The TV gets used 2-3 times each week, the landline gets used once every 10-15 days, and the TREO cell phone/PDA is normally used only when I am on assignment in my volunteer work. What a slackard I am--all that technology sitting about, unused!


We have an all-in-one package from our cable company: TV, Internet and phone. Any separate part of the service can go down without taking out the others, but if the power goes off you lose everything. That's where cell phones come in.

We're generally happy with the cable phone because the flat rate includes unlimited long distance all over the U.S. and Canada, but sometimes the sound quality is peculiar.

I would give up the landline in a heartbeat. But I need it for my DSL internet connection. Otherwise I'd have to get cable, which I have no other use for, since I ditched the TV (with no regrets) several years ago.

We gave up our satellite TV subscription when we moved last year and we are in a rural area where there is no broadcast signal. We are not sports fans or news junkies, and my wife mainly kept it on for "background" noise. A radio works just as well for that, and a netflix subscription is cheaper and better than TV. When we don't have a movie we read books. The internet is our main news source.


Thanks for taking the time to tell me about your service. I can get that Triple play from my Cable company,too. Maybe I will....

Please don't take my email or internet! I can live without phones or TV.

Here, after 9/11, we decided to keep our landline. The first thing that goes in disasters is cell phone towers. I would not want to be without my cell for emergency purposes. I hate being off work about midnight, downtown, alone, without my cell.

We too are like the youngsters and want our internet here, but no extras on the cell. The buttons are too small for texting, and the images at 2 pixels plus charges per picture are too fuzzy to bother with.

Oh, opinions.

I'm with you. I would not have a land line if it were not for the fact that I do not receive good cell phone service at my residence. I have become dependent upon my computer and the internet.

I'd love to get rid of the land line but for two reasons: DSL and the fact that our cell phones don't work at all at home--despite the fact that we live in a major metropolitan area. We don't have cable--too high a junk/good stuff ratio--and rarely use the TV except for watching DVDs.

I watch my niece and nephew texting with their friends when they are with the family (even at the table!) and I wonder whether in that generation anyone is ever just in one place at a time. It seems like a loss of connection between generations. I hope they change as they get older.

We have computers (1 desktop, 1 laptop)and DSL as the Internet is such an important part of our lives now. But no TV (Can't stand it. Haven't had one in twenty years). No cellphones, except a little 'GeoSim' international phone (pay-as-you-go) that I only use a couple of times times a year, when I travel overseas. We love our landline and I can't imagine why I would get rid of it. Using cellphones for all our calls would cost us a stack more than we curently pay.

I keep a land line and fax for my business, and a cell phone for convenience, but I'd just as soon give up TV and the newspaper. If I had to choose, the computer and email would win, hands down!

Ten years ago, I had a land line and a small TV with a VCR -- no cable -- and a stereo due to circumstances. I went to the library to check my email.

Today I have two computers, a cell phone, a land line, basic cable and DSL.

Am I happier? Maybe. But only because I have the computer abd can communicate with all y'all!

A significant reason to keep a land line phone in your home is that if you use it to call 911 in a personal emergency, your location is immediately available to rescuers. If you rely on only a cell phone and are unable to give your exact location to emergency operators, there may be a delay finding you. The situation has improved slightly since this Consumer Reports article was written in 2006:

I'm 66 and live on the computer. I have a cell landline. My computer is wireless and I use Skype a lot both for calls and IM. I am lusting for an IPhone and an Amazon Kindle.

The last time I complained to the cable company about the service, I asked when I could order only the cnannels I want. Was told that à la carte programming is on the way. Now it will be hard to choose what channels I really want. Must haves: Internet, wired phone for when electricty and cell go out so I can report electricty is out.


Would you consider surveying readers about broadband internet access? Our township in central New York is rural, but within a stone's throw of Cornell University. Still 63% of our residents (including myself) do not have access to high speed internet - except perhaps by satellite which is prohibitively expensive and not all that much better than dialup in some ways.

Colleagues continue to send me 5MB files or links to videos that would take all day to download. I fear that as more and more of us retire and give up our high speed office connections, we'll be increasingly unable to access internet services.

I have cable for the phone and internet. The phone uses the lines the phone company put in not the cable. I got fed up with cable TV years ago and went to satellite which uses the land line phone for the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) otherwise I would get rid of it. We each have a laptop and one desktop PC, a portable DVD player plus we can use our laptops for DVDs and CDs. We each have a Palm PDA that has a GPS function by TomTom. We each have a cell phone and use it every day. We take pictures and send and receive pictures on it. We occasionally text as text can get through sometimes when voice will not. This year we added printer that faxes, copies, and is connected to our wireless LAN (Local Area Network) that I set up for our computers.
I use the DVR to time shift and watch the programs I want to see on my schedule not the networks.
I don't want to give any of it up. I know I can live without any of it but why not use modern conveniences. I'm 67 and husband is 69.

I don't text or IM, and I don't have a cell phone. It's not that I can't use these things, I just don't need them: as I grow older, and more reclusive, I'm trying to avoid people, not make me more accessible to them. As for other technologies, I can't imagine life without my computer or the internet, and would just barely survive without TV to watch videos on. I have 4 TVs, one with VCR built in, and 3 DVD players, one of which is region-free, so I can watch foreign videos which aren't coded for the US region and likely never will be. When I travel, I like to prowl video stores and bookshops in ethnic communities like Chinatown, Little Italy, etc., and usually find great bargains. (I recently bought a DVD package featuring one of my Hong Kong favorites, 26 disks for $20 plus tax, cheaper than rental. Are they pirated? Probably not, since they're priced for the Asian market, not the U.S. But I have no way of knowing, and for me it's a case of ignorance and apathy: I don't know and I don't care. Another valued form of entertainment and information for me is satellite radio, which offers a great variety of whatever you want. In fact, about the only time I switch on a conventional radio any more is to catch the local news and weather while I'm having breakfast.

I also thought about dropping my landline for VoIP, but had concerns about its reliability, especially in emergency situations. So before making any move I called my phone company and told them I wanted to save money, so what would they do to keep me as a customer. They offered me a very basic package that costs about the same as VoIP although I'd have to pay extra for added services which the internet phone companies provide for free. My monthly bill's just slightly more, however, since the only extra I want is caller I.D.

Great question, Ronni, and interesting comments!

SHORT answer: Landline in Atlanta, cell phone in Israel, and MacBook (wireless) everywhere.

LONG answer: Both TVs (in Atlanta) are in a closet and viewed during national (any) emergencies (including the Second Lebanon War and the last USA presidential election returns...). The radios are mostly silent. Why? With my MacBook, I access music and with my iPod, I listen (anywhere, anytime...) to interviews and lectures I download from NPR, PBS, PRI, universities, and nonprofits (e.g., PEN American Center, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and TEDTalks [Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference]).

The thing I hate about technology are all of the acronyms. It makes my head swim to hear about VoIP, PDA. GPS, et. al.

I have land line phones, including a captioned phone (It is really a computer designed to look like a phone)and satellite TV. I manage, but would like a cell phone for trips. I am still unable to hear well on the phone so must do with captioning service and haven't found a cell that I can hear on.

I would perish without my DSL computer. When it's down, I'm down.

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