Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney
Why Do So Many Elders Vote Conservative?

How Many Elders are Online?

Well, if you're reading this, you are definitely online. But many elders are not.

The annual Pew survey of internet usage always grabs me and because this blog is Time Goes By what it's really like to get old, I pay closest attention, of course, to the age demographics.

Here is what the growth look like from June 1995 through August 2011: (If this is too small to read, visit the website for larger versions of all the graphs I have reproduced here.)


[UPDATE NOTE: A reader advises that this graph does not agree with the numbers I discuss below. This graph refers to ALL internet users; what I discuss below are ELDER internet users.]

In the 65 and older group, in the year 2000, just 12 percent used the internet. In 2011 (when this newest survey was conducted), that number had more than tripled to 41 percent.

That is compared to 41 percent of people age 50 to 64 in 2000, which is up to 74 percent today.

Usage for the oldest people has grown less than at first glance because some percentage of the year 2000 50-64 user group has aged into the 65-plus cohort.

As I have frequently written here over the years, I want to see as many old people as possible online because I believe the internet is a godsend for our well-being.

When we retire, there is less opportunity for day-to-day camaraderie we had in the workplace. Old friends die or move away. The kids often live a plane flight or two away.

At the same time, we may need to stop driving, limiting our mobility. Sometimes we can't get around on foot as easily as we once did either. All these things conspire to shrink our social lives – a well-known indicator of depression which can lead to physical illness and early death.

The internet can change that and particularly, I believe, blogging an whether as a writer or as a reader who contributes in the comments. Many friendships are made on blogs (and other online gathering places) and sometimes we even get to meet in person.

Twenty-two percent of Americans age 18 and older – nearly one in four adults - does not use the internet. Here is a graph of the reasons respondents gave:


Four percent say they are “too old to learn” and as much as I don't like it, I know there are elders who will never even try. But the number three reason to not be online is that it is too expensive and that is surely so.

A shocking statistic from this survey is that while 60 percent of people 50 to 64 years old are using broadband to access the web, only 30 percent of 65-plus internet users have broadband.


They can't all be in rural areas where speedy connections are often unavailable at any price. Many simply cannot afford a service that averages about $47.00 a month. According to the Federal Communications Commission survey from 2010:

”About 36 percent of the 28 million adults who said they don't subscribe to broadband at home said that the monthly fee for broadband is too expensive, they can't afford a computer, or the installation fee is too high.”

Although medical appointments via the internet are still a long way from being common, the numbers are increasing – a development that can save time and money of both the physician and patent. But a huge barrier to adoption by elders will be the high price of a necessary broadband connection.

Go see the rest of the survey. There are some other interesting results including the usage of smartphones – not much in the elder age group.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Push My Buttons Please


There's nothing particularly unexpected about the poll results; the hopeful part is that over time the percentage of older usage slides upward, as would be expected once the technology starts to age out and novelty is less of a consideration.
However, while I agree with all your reasons for advocacy of the technology, the human nature factor is always the biggest stumbling block.
A case in point: My French teacher, with whom I've kept in contact over the years, recently moved from his apartment to an assisted living facility (he's 87 and I'm 71). I called him recently to chat, and during the course of our conversation I told him all about my computer activities, many of which you've mentioned in your post. He listened politely for a few minutes, than cut me off to tell me that he was already unhappy about the lack of cultural opportunities at his facility (he's an aficionado of Italian opera). The subtext of the reaction of this cultured, highly intelligent and sophisticated man was that he couldn't be bothered. Getting past that reaction has its analogies in twentieth century history with use of the telephone, the automobile, and every other technological advance. I'm optimistic that things will change; I'm not optimistic that they will change overnight(nor do I think you are saying that). Keep up your good work.

Many of the old folks in my morning exercise class is in the not interested category. Will read more after class and school.

I've been online for well over 20 years when everyone thought I was nut. It's been an enriching experience on so many levels.

Great conversation starter, as usual. My 95 year-old dad misses the internect terribly. He had to give it up over a year ago because of failing vision...

Whoops - internet! I suppose internect is close because it was inter-connect for Dad...

Question re Marian's comment: is there software to help vision-impaired people continue to at least email?

I'm a writer and I guess I ought to know the answer to that, but I don't!

As an insurance broker working mostly with people over 65, it is very unusual for me to come across people who don't use the internet, especially those under 70.

Just the other day I visited with a client who is 86, and she uses email to stay in touch with her family.

I have an 84 year old friend who just bought an i-pad. It was kind of amazing how she could figure out how it worked after a bit of instruction. After a couple of days,she showed me some new things I didn't know about the i-pad.

I joked that she must have a brain like a kid, since kids seem to figure out high-tech gadgets intuitively.

I've been using a computer since the mid 80s and I remember my first email. I was in the Army and my commander made it mandatory. I also remember thinking to myself: "Why can't he pick up the $%^& phone if he wants to talk to me?" Four years later when I retired from the Army, I realized if I didn't get a computer I'd be left in the dust. I'm 65. Whenever I think about my finances and cutting back on something, internet connection isn't one of them.

I have stated many times that the Internet has saved my life and made retirement enjoyable. I have made some wonderful friends on line and they are more numerous than my face-to-face friends.

I do my banking on line, keep up with the news on line, relax with solitaire on line, do research on line and read some very interesting articles on line.

I have friends my age that can't understand why I use the Internet. I feel sorry for them as their life is taken up with soap operas and gossip. What a waste of the golden years.

I must admit that when things go wrong it is more difficult for me to resolve the issues than it would have been 5 years ago and I get very frustrated. But I keep telling myself that's what is helping to slow down dementia.

I was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration and my first thought was 'if I go blind how will I use the Internet?'. Fortunately my MD is the dry kind and the progression will be slow unless I get the wet kind. I was told I am a high risk candidate for that. So, with fingers crossed, I will keep on using the computer as long as possible.

While is is expensive, I wonder how many elders spend an equal amount of money on other things that they could do without.

Re vision: if size of text is the problem, almost all browsers and email programs have tools to increase the size of text pretty much to infinity.

Other visual problems are not so easily solved but there are increasingly good text-to-speech technologies that are useful to have the text read aloud.

In no way meaning to be rude, I still must ask why Denise thinks it is "kind of amazing" that an 84-year-old could figure out how to use an iPad.

First, they are easier to learn than regular computers and there are fewer things that can go wrong.

But most of all, I wonder how many elders never get a chance to try new things because too many believe they can't learn something new for no other reason than they are old. Which, of course, is not true.

I've been "online" since it first became possible, and I can't imagine living without it. I'll admit I'm surprised to see people citing disinterest more than expense as a reason for not using the Internet. I groan every month when my cable bill in, and that's in addition to the cost of owning and maintaining a decent computer.

I can understand disinterest from those elders who don't know what they're missing and are relatively content with life as it is. What concerns me more is the knowledge gap between those youngsters who can afford access at home and those who cannot.

Remember Pine and listservs? That's how far I go back with the Internet. I can't imagine life without it.
But I have several elder friends who don't use the Internet, including a highly intelligent retired physician. He likes to potter around in his yard and he likes to read books, and that satisfies him. No reason to push him about the matter, since he is fine with himself and the way he lives.
Almost all my "face" friends think blogging is a waste of time. But blogging to me is more than a pastime but a way of having a presence in the big world when I live so far away from the mainstream here in Hilo, Hawaii. Twitter and Facebook are important to me, too, for keeping up with friends and with national and world news.
We recently pitched in with a group and gave one of our friends an I-Pad for his 75th birthday. He needed some help figuring it out, but now he loves it, especially for streaming movies on Netflix.
What I guess I'm saying is that the Internet is great, but using the Internet is not some sort of obligation. If people aren't involved with it, they have their reasons.
Oh, and some people I know don't own computers and don't have an Internet connection but use these resources at the library for e-mail and surfing the web.
One world, many mansions, I say.

To search for help for impairment, paste this into the Google search window:

"universal access" computer OR internet

Good luck!

My father bought a computer in the late 1980s when he was in his 80s. We gave him Quicken one Christmas, which he loved for keeping track of their finances. He died in 1994 when the Internet was just getting started. Although he was an early tech adopter, I don't think he ever would have gone online because of the cost. He was quite frugal. The only thing that I can think of that might have tempted him would be how easily he could download Quicken data into a tax form.

I, too, was a fairly early tech adopter getting my first PC in 1991, but it wasn't until 1998 when I enrolled in graduate school to become a librarian(at the age of 60)that I did much with the web.

Those online friendships you mentioned have been an important influence in my stroke recovery. Instead of experiencing diminished social contact because of mobility issues, I treasure "blogging buddies" who are as dear to me as friends I see in person.

It was an easy progression
from typewriter to computer keyboards, because in a former life I was a secretary and can touch type with eyes closed.

I recently bought the Ipad 3 and am learning how to use it by going to the free workshops at the Apple store, and gathering with other retired teachers who own the device.

The keyboard is highly touch sensitive, but my friends say I'll get used to it quickly.

My local librarian will show me how to download books.

The Ipad was expensive, but it will be easier, lighter to bring on trips than two net books.

A kindergarten teacher takes her class, with Ipads, to a local senior home and shows the seniors their childhood homes, using Google Earth.

Seniors are the perfect cohort group to use these devices.

To me, there is no valid comparison presented when one lumps all 65+ ages into one interval of a "chart". 65+ covers at least 40 years, for Pete's sake. No other age group comprises even close to that many years.
More sense could be made out of a graphic that is age versus percentage computer users (or whatever) with one year increments from start to finish.
There is surely a step-function at some age that represents the working population that was active when computers became common-place in the work environment.
Shame on those data hounds for their being so sloppy!

Glad to see Linda's comment about how useful using the computer has been for her after having a stroke.

I strongly urge your readers to approach any retirement communities and/or skilled nursing facilities that provide rehabilitation services to install wireless capability for patients.

Certainly, not all patients can independently use a computer, but some can and would experience the offerings as truly a godsend. Others will need assistance. Also, a progressive Activities Dept. could integrate the use in many ways. These tablets, like iPad have real potential for ease of use with touch screens and the speech recognition increasingly will provide benefits.

As Marc Leavitt noted in his comment, there have been similar reactions to other technological advances such as the telephone. My 73-year-old friend remembers her father's reaction when the family wanted to install one of those new fangled telephones in his house. "Absolutely not. If somebody wants to speak to me, let him come here to my home and knock on the door, like a gentleman." How things have changed.

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