The Possibilities of the Internet
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The Technology Elders Use – And Don't

When, a few months ago, I saw a new primary care physician, of course he drew blood for a bunch of tests. Two days later, I was delighted to receive an email from the large health provider with which he is affiliated linking to the test results online.

Not only were the results numbers listed, so was the normal range so that I could tell immediately if there were red flags. That is light years better than waiting for days, as in the past, until the doctor got around to telephoning me – if he or she ever did.

The health and medical community has been threatening “telehealth” for years and it is slowly coming into being. There are places where you can meet with a physician online in a Skype-like call but not many.

For all the reasons that are obvious, it is my belief that for routine monitoring, video visits with doctors should arrive in our lives sooner rather than later.

A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Internet Project released its most recent Older Adults and Technology Use survey. The big news is that the percentage of adults 65 and older who go online is increasing. Here is their chart on that:

Pew Percent Online

Like it or not, the internet is where things get done these days and I don't think it's nearly enough for the elder participation to have grown from 14% to 59% in 13 years. In fact, the number is even lower if you don't count highly educated and affluent elders. As Pew notes,

”Younger, higher-income, and more highly educated seniors use the internet and broadband at rates approaching - or even exceeding - the general population; internet use and broadband adoption each drop off dramatically around age 75.”

(Personally, I think it is an error to count broadband adoption as an indicator of advanced internet use. There are many communities, particularly outside big cities, where broadband is not available so it not a choice; people in those places are stuck with dialup still.)

Overall however, according to the study, the 65-plus group is falling behind the rest of the population in technology adoption. Take a look:

Pew Tech Adoption

Here is what Pew has to say about smartphones as a subset of cellphone adoption by elders:

”...even as cell phones are becoming more common among seniors, smartphones have yet to catch on with all but small pockets of the older adult population.

“Just 18% of seniors are smartphone adopters (this is well below the national adoption rate of 55%) and their rate of smartphone adoption has been growing at a relatively modest pace.

I detect a whiff of disapproval in that statement that older Americans aren't doing their part to enrich the mobile hardware purveyors but I think there is a good reason.

All this week, the news has been telling us about two Supreme Court cases to be decided about whether police should be required to get a warrant to search cell phones.

Those opposed say that smartphones contain just about every personal detail there is about their owners and there should be a compelling legal reason for agents of the government to access that much private information.

I happen to agree but that's not my point today. Younger adults juggling their careers with raising children in a busy modern world have a lot to keep track of and having it all on one hand-held device is easy and convenient.

But I don't think old people, particularly when retired, have anywhere near as much reason to have a smartphone with a zillion apps. So why pay hundreds of dollars for all that extra power when a clamshell with a big-number keypad does the job? (Contrary to conventional wisdom, elders aren't stupid.)

As the current elder generations die off and the young boomers grow into the upper age categories, they will bring their smartphones with them and then marketers can complain that they aren't buying whatever the next latest gizmo is.

Another question that interested me was about the elders who don't go online and don't think they are missing anything. In case the font is too small in this image for you to read, it is: “% of those 65 and older who agree with the statement: People without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing.” Here's the chart:

Pew Not Missing Much

This is the Pew commentary on that chart:

”Seniors who do not currently go online, on the other hand, are much more divided when it comes to the benefits of technology. Half of these non-users (48%) agree that people lacking internet access are at a disadvantage and missing out on important information, with 25% agreeing strongly.

“But 35% of older non-internet users disagree with the assessment that they are missing out on important information — with 18% of them disagreeing strongly.”

As we have discussed at great length just in the past two days, there are amazing practical and life-enhancing reasons to be online but I doubt that there is a way to convince most of that 35 percent to join us.

As a kind of addendum, here is a related video from Pew about how people with chronic health conditions use the internet.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Learning Experiences


I also recently had my yearly checkup, and the blood test results were made available online via my private insurance (thanks Obama!). It is great to be able to know exactly what the tests showed, even with links to explanations.

I do think elders without the internet are lacking some necessary information -- most likely regarding medical issues. You can now thoroughly research most medical conditions and make a much more informed decision tailored to your wishes.

I have no need for a smartphone and mostly the expense involved although I understand the need for some to have them--those with far busier lives than mine. I do like having online access to health records and test results and I use my laptop often throughout the day to look up some bit of information (love the online dictionary and thesaurus!) or to flip through sites for the entertainment value.
I can go for hours without checking the computer though if I am out and about. I really don't feel that need for constant connection--the major difference I see between me and my daughter and grandchildren.

My doctor has a website where I can go to see my test results and send him emails. I like that more than getting a phone. He's really big on having me do emails as follow ups to appointments which he (or a nurse for all I know) answers in a timely manner. I could see how Skype will someday become commonplace in the medical field.

I have a smart phone but I resisted one for a long time and ended up with the old people's version that has bigger fonts, words instead of tiny icons for apps, etc. and a live operator if needed. I still don't trust it enough to give up my land line which I use when I expect to be on hold a long time or doing sensitive stuff like banking. I feel like we have no choice but to keep up with technology. If we don't it just makes us look and feel older and obsolete.

I would like to have a "smart phone," but for those of us with limited, fixed incomes, the costs are prohibitive. Not only are the phones expensive, but the monthly charges are out of our reach. I make do with the PC at home, and the laptop and reader/tablet with free wi-fi locations when we're out.

The new technology is wonderful. I can't imagine my life without it.

The reason why so many seniors are reluctant to adopt the internet or computing devices (i.e. smart phones, tablets) in general is that they never used them in their work. I started using computers at work back in 1993 (D.O.S. system) and have been using them ever since. There is hardly a business that does not use a computer even if it only for billing and bookkeeping. Those people who have been out of the workforce for that last 20 years have no idea how useful and necessary being "connected" is. With that being said, I think seniors, just like the rest of the population, will adopt just as much technology as they feel comfortable with and can afford. With some seniors the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" does apply.

First cost. After my husbands company switched from cells to Skype, my husband returned to using his regular phone. He saves almost $150.00 a month. Cost for broadband is very high too.

Yes too, the seniors I work with know they can't learn to use the internet so don't. Two I know have computers, but use them only to get email. I admit that even I had a bit of a struggle learning how to update Facebook albums for The American Cancer Society Discovery shop here. Hope your internet connection is improved.

My concern about the direction of technology is that providers of consumer tech goodies seem to be leading us away from using devices with keyboards. Since I use a computer to write (and dump spam of course) I don't like a future in which a tablet or a smartphone becomes the expected appliance and what I consider a "real computer" becomes a rarity. I sure don't see myself communicating in videos ...

IMO, it's just a matter of demographics. I'm 66 and use lots of technology for various reasons (I'm retired.) I think most people now over 65 grew-up pre-television and the group over 80 have a hard time with the equipment.

Now, as you can see from your chart, there is a sudden move upward. My generation, baby-boomers, grew up with TV, adapted to the incredible pace of tech improvements, use computers, smart-phones, are addicted to GPS, etc. IMO, as more baby boomers move in to our (artificial) age grouping the numbers will change.

People generally carry forward what they know to retirement and are late adopters after that. So a Boomer ain't going to stop using a computer at 75 just because they hit that number. I'm not going to go get a curly grey perm and take up bingo.

The no technology group is dying off and will be replaced by the younger demographic so the numbers will spike up again.

I had a neighbour who was 77 who was married to a woman 12 year older than him so she was 89. He was not allowed to use a microwave, CD player or computer and after she died all the items were installed. She was terrified of any electronics that weren't invented by 1965.

What I've heard repeatedly from some older than 75 (who are active, vital and stay quite busy) is that they're "just not interested". All the factors mentioned above absolutely apply, but think about your own interests. Would you want someone else telling you you're really missing out if you don't read the great authors, or try all the new foods available, or attend Bingo every Friday night? To them it's the same thing. Not. Interested. Period.

Bruce makes an essential point about learning to use computers on the job back in the day. I used a computer at a job I took early in 1989 and then bought one for myself. I've lost track of how many times I've upgraded since then.

I have a smartphone but am not addicted to texting. In fact, I'm appalled by the number of young people who text while crossing the street in the dark, wearing dark clothing. Sometimes in a crosswalk, sometimes not.

I carry an old dumbphone when I go for a long walk alone in case I need to call my husband or 911. It's small and dirt-cheap.

I have two elder neighbors who have shunned the computer age and reluctantly joined the cell phone age. How do they spend their days you might wonder. They watch a lot of TV and spend hours on the phone talking to friends and relatives. All of the information they possess comes from television and we all know how inadequate (and often misleading) that is. I find the elders who have adapted to the technological age to be much better informed about nearly everything than the ones stuck in the 40's.

I got my first cell phone in the early 1990's. It just barely fit in my big purse and had a little antenna that pulled up. I was a single mom and an on call programmer. It was nothing short of a miracle in my life. Today I have a smart phone. It may be overkill for my life but I'm hooked. My grandkids sigh and ask why I have no apps or music on it. I still do have a land line. We get terrific winds storms here and at times the old corded phone is the only thing that works. Plus I still find the sound is better on the land line. The screen size on the cell is a bit of a problem for my old eyeballs. I have a tiny laptop that I no longer carry on trips as the smart phone covers most of what I used it for, I'll pass it along to a grandkid.

BTW I too like being able to see my test results online. Right now the hospital associated with my MD is going through electronic upgrades and growing pains, but I think its the right direction to go. It can be really hard to get in to see my regular MD or a specialist and having electronic access has helped immensely as well as eliminating extra appointments or being on hold on the phone.

The biggest disadvantage I see for the over 65 crowd is the cost of both equipment and connection. I wonder how many retirees on low incomes would be connected if the cost were more reasonable?

Just as I find it hard to keep up with the advances in technology that I don't happen to use regularly, others likely find it hard to adopt or use technology that they weren't using before they retired. The demands of the workplace require learning and keeping up with all the latest stuff. Retirement does not. If you're content with what you have and know when you retire, there isn't much pressure to explore unfamiliar, possibly intimidating technology.

And I worry constantly about the digital divide, the fact that economics keep a lot of people from using and benefiting from technology. I worry about children being left behind because their families can't afford to buy tablets, cell phones, computers, and all the other technology that schools and businesses rely on today (and seem to assume everyone has). I marvel at the kids who don't even have enough to eat but carry the latest, greatest cell phone (which I'd love to have but can't afford). Technology is expensive!

It seems to me that one thing to keep in mind when studying polls and research involving seniors such as this one is that the designated curve is continually losing numbers to those who are dying, which for our generation has always constituted the lesser of the tech savvy seniors while the bottom end or entry level (age 65) of the curve contains an ever increasing number of new seniors who have had much more exposure to technology whether forced or willingly. The representative progressive curve is very dynamic in this regard and not in the least static, therefore it is not reflective in any real measure as to how many of those in our generation are actually moving from being non-technology users to technology users such as you and me.

The curve will never reflect accurate results because when the senior population’s tech savvy is the same as or equal to the younger generation’s tech savvy, it will be because of attrition in my opinion and not because seniors from our generation have taken up the tech savvy banner and educated themselves. The real reason will be because we as a generation have passed on.

I had blood drawn for a PSA level check recently.

I'm cash-pay for anything under $5000 and have been for years.

I had to pay $90 for the results (at an office visit) on top of $85 for the blood draw and lab work.

I understand the Doc has to make money to stay in business, but I am definitely a high-margin patient...even though he gets his money faster from me.

I'd love to check results online!

The thing that bothers me most about any discussion of seniors and technology is any kind, even a hint,of senior "bashing" of those who don't use technology or don't use the latest. I do a newsletter for my retirement community HOA with 46 homeowners. The past year our prez (who has all the latest technology) made a big push to get email addresses from everyone because it's certainly cheaper to email a newsletter than to print and copy it. We did well and of those 46, only about 8 need to be printed and hand-delivered. The lady who maintains our roster including the email list sends out the newsletter while I hand-deliver the others (I love to walk and I have better knees). What's significant is that there are several reasons why those 8 homeowners don't have email and never will use any technology. Still our prez tends to push for total "compliance". PiedType is right that this group will eventually die out and be replaced by a more tech-savvy group. But how sad to become impatient or dismiss or marginalize them now or limit their receipt of information because it's no longer convenient to provide it in their comfortable format.

Hmmm. I certainly think elders who don't want to use technology are entitled to their choice with no comment or criticism from those of us who do. I'm 71, I have a Macbook, and ipad and an iphone and I am totally in love with all of them. If I want my grandkids to answer me quickly, I text them, same for my kids. I love the cameras, and am learning how to do amazing things with the photos. I use the laptop and the ipad to write, do a lot of work for my church and it's a great way to stay in touch. I use the internet all the time, it amazes me what you can learn. I play "words with friends" with my college friends who are far away. I simply can't imagine my life without my techie toys, so I guess you'd say I'm hooked, despite having had to take classes to learn how to use everything (which made my grandkids laugh). I feel it helps to keep my mind active, as exercise keeps my body going.

Sandy, you're right about prematurely marginalizing people.

I have "kept up" since 1972, which has been a lesson in itself. Your techno-totalitarian prez apparently doesn't realize the cool stuff he loves ALL becomes "that old thing" in a nanosecond--and that one day, he too will seem like a fossil. We won't be here to see it, of course, but like the Pantene commercial says, "It WILL happen."

"Keeping up" is good, but maintaining perspective? Perhaps better.

I have a 90-year-old friend who Skypes all the time with her great grandchildren a continent away, a great use of technology.

I don't need a smartphone right now since I'm seldom more than a foot from my landline (I sit at a computer all day). But I may get one in the future as Smartphone apps mightily improve hearing aids. The New York Times story about this is at

I completely agree about the smartphone. It's not because I'm over 60 that I don't have one; it's because I don't think it's worth what I'd have to pay to have one. I may find I need one in the future, but for now, I choose to spend those dollars elsewhere or save them.

It would be interesting to see the 65+ numbers analyzed further: by health, like the recent post by the man who has a hard time getting around, who has far more incentive to go online than someone who is active in his community. Or by the presence/absence of grandchildren, and whether or not they live nearby or if the grandparents can only see their grandkids via Internet. By income (I can't afford a smartphone unless I reduce something somewhere); and by their work experience, whether recent or long ago. It was eye-opening to me to see how impenetrable internet instructions were to a man who was a welder: he had no idea what a "tab key" or "return" meant, never having used a typewriter.
As a writer who has done fundraising work, as well as a human who is deluged by e-mails daily, I'm finding that you have to send me printed hardcopies if you want me to keep your information on hand and accessible. If it weren't for the Lavatory Library, I'd never read the newsletters from my various groups.
I guess my point is that an individual's use of technology is highly variable. The teenage me who spent hours on the phone chatting about the Beatles would be that kid walking blindly across the street texting my friends; but my current self knows that most news this side of a heart attack keeps.

Although I have 4G and use my iPhone everywhere, my husband uses only wifi on his iPhone. At home, he logs into our wireless router, and when out, he can almost always pick up a free wifi. He only pays about $100 a year for his service. The one thing he cannot do with his phone is send and receive photos in texts. That can be maddening when I'm trying to show him something while I am out shopping. Instead, I have to email the photo to him. It still works, though.

I would give up my laptop before my iPhone. And I really love my laptop, which is also an Apple product.

Good piece, Ronni. I'm going to write something similar for HuffPo, and link to this.

From my business book published in 2005:

The computer/internet ethos for most Baby Boomers is that they pick and choose what technology they want to use, buy, or install. Some are all over Skype, video and music uploading and downloading, research, education, travel planning, shopping—while eschewing blogging, communities, and web page design. Or it’s the other way around. Or variations thereof. When it comes to new technology, most Baby Boomers learn only about what interests them, what they believe will be useful. They don’t feel the need to know everything there is to know about technology, computers, and the web.

From reading your blog and these comments, what I wrote way back when is still pretty much true.

There may be some reluctance to use technology, especially social media, due to privacy concerns. I think that privacy is more important to those of us who grew up in a time when one's private life was, well, private!

I used a main-frame "dummy terminal" at my last job. I knew that PCs were going to be the "next" thing and I was determined to keep up so my husband and I both took some computer classes at our local community college to get started.

Now we each have a PC and a Kindle. My husband also has a tablet and a cellphone (not a smart phone)that he takes with him when running errands in case of car trouble or so I can reach him in case of an emergency (has never happened).

I think that fear and cost are what keeps many from using technology. My mother practically quit working when my dad had computers installed in their business. She was simply afraid of them after having heard stories about people hitting a wrong button and losing all their data. She was a whiz on a typewriter, but was afraid to touch computer.

None of my sisters (younger than me)have ever used a computer although two of them did use cellphones.

Both my children and grandchildren use everything and none of them has a landline. This is one of my gripes about cellphones: so many people only have cellphones and there is no telephone directory for cellphones, so you can't call a neighbor or anyone unless they have given you their number. And husband and wife each has their own number, so you have to have two numbers at least for each family.

I LOVE having access to the internet. It's like having a mega-encyclopedia, FREE -- and it expands daily. Exponentially. Incredible, I say. I prefer my landline, because I can make calls and answer it all over the house instead of trying to figure out where the Hellphone is [certainly not surgically attached to my body]. I don't see any point in spending the money and I do not want to be TEXTED while I'm away from home for a few hours. . . doing something else, thank you. If someone dies, I will know soon enough. Otherwise, what's the big rush? Here are the options for contacting me: Call me; leave a message on my landline; return my calls; send me an email; leave a message on Skype (I will see it). Is that not sufficient?

Skype is fantastic. It's free. I can text-type or have a live video chat from almost anywhere in the world (and you can even use the Skype app on a cheap cellphone that you might have bought for a trip). I use it quite often to chat with friends in countries beyond my free-call range. I have family who live near me, and they seldom call me at all. This is my sister's refrain: "I really wish you would get a cellphone." What the. . .? I keep telling her I will think about it if she will buy the thing and pay my monthly bill. The kicker is that she can't figure out how to use Skype!

I don't think this is as relevant to age as it is to being practical, which for me, a Baby Boomer, means ditching obsession with unnecessary gadgets.

1) There is a difference between owning a smart phone and having a smart phone with a data service. I have a 7-year-old smart phone, but have never subscribed to a data plan. I just want to be able to carry Word and Excel files with me for reference. I pay only $15/month for service (while my husband pays $40/month for a phone+data service).

2) A smart phone is not the only phone with which one may text.

I accidentally posted my comment for today on yesterday's blog, near the tail end of comments. Bad eyes and holes in head. Really loved all the great comments yesterday and today. Will check day next time.

Maybe it is not age that keeps many of us from embracing every new thing that comes along. Maybe it is wisdom and respect for the world.

I want to second what someone else said previously: privacy issues. I use a computer/tablet/smartphone but many of my friends (65+) avoid them for privacy reasons. I wish more of my friends had smartphones and email but they cite the privacy issue and I can't argue it.

Cost: not only is there the initial outlay but also the constant upgrades. You can't keep using the computer/tablet/smartphone you bought 6-10 years ago, you have to buy a new one! My smartphone is 5 years old, works OK but is considered woefully out of date.

I worked with computers since the early 80s, bought computers for my kids to use, bought a cellphone in the 90s. I thought when I retired that I would use my newfound spare time (ha!!) to learn all sorts of computer-related stuff I never had time for before, but it turned out that I was just not that interested any more. I don't blame folks who never used the stuff in their working careers for not wanting to learn it now, I feel like learning new technology is just a pain in the arse. Not scared of it, just not that interested.

My mother, god rest her soul, was using computers at work in the 70s and was an early adopter of email and other internet activities. She had a "car phone". She wasn't around for Skype but I bet she would have loved it.

As someone who was forced into technology advances when the internet was shiny clean and new, I've kept up with all things Apple..yep I'm a brand name slut.
My 2 sons write apps for iPads, iPods and iPhones, my son in law is a developer for another platform and I'm sort of proud that I'm on a senior call list of "People who can help you when your Mac goes burp".
Considering all of us came from strictly analog age basics and the 8 track was one of our first 'advances' in tech I think the percentage points are pretty good. Most boomers aren't afraid of tech advances and many welcome them with eagerness..when the newest advance in electronics comes out the line at the Apple store is about 1/3 senior looking.

I worked for Ma Bell, back when it was Ma Bell and was the first woman 'lineman' west of the Mississippi. I installed phones for Portlands first computer show, where Steve Jobs set up his new invention and complained to me about the different speeds he was getting on different phone numbers. I had to ask "What is a Baud?" It's been a long time but many of us are enthusiastic about advances..Cool Beans for us!
Elle-your neighbor in Beaverton

Reasonable people use what they get the most benefit from. I don't have a smart phone because I don't need it. I have a 5 year old Nokia fliptop and it does what it is supposed to: allow for calls in and out, and it is my only phone.
I use a PC and have had various ones since 1983.
I have a Nook to read my books, as my eyesight is such that being able to have large print is required.
High speed internet is available and I forget that others in some areas of this country are still having to use dial-up.
Facebook doesn't interest me, and I can't see where my life is bereft without using it.

I think Classof65 was on target with this comment, "I think that fear and cost are what keeps many from using technology." No one should be forced or shamed into going online, but we should do our best to make it easier for ALL older persons to make an informed decision about the new technology, minimize education or income as a barrier.

I love oldies

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