Tech Adoption and Senior Citizens

I was looking at a recent Pew Research Center report abut tech adoption by seniors. It stated 40% of American adults ages 65+ own a smartphone now. At the same time, more than 2/3rds of seniors use the internet, which is a 55% increase from 2000. And as the chart below states, 51% now have some form of broadband in their homes.

The report also states:

  • Roughly one-third of older internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks
  • About half of seniors say they usually need someone else to set up a new electronic device for them or show them how to use it.

Keep in mind, the average population of seniors is on the rise in the U.S. The Census Bureau projects the number of 65+ people will rise from 15% to 22% by 2050.

The report also suggests seniors still report feeling disconnected from the internet and digital culture. In essence, what is happening is digital technology moves so fast, it is hard for them to keep up with new tech advancements, especially if it is not something that is of any real interest to them.

But, as more aspects of daily life become dependent on technology, particularly health care, seniors’ adoption of new technologies will become increasingly important.

The chart above also says about 32% of seniors have tablets and 34% of them use social media. As a professional researcher, I have no doubt the Pew survey results were solid and these numbers are pretty accurate.

But, in one sense, it surprises me some of these technologies do not have an even greater uptake by seniors since the internet connections and devices needed to gain access to the internet have become as fundamental to their daily activities today as the telephone was to them in their earlier lives.

There is one chart in this survey that does show a much higher senior adoption rate — seniors that are more affluent and younger.

Many of us in our 60s actually grew up in the PC age and, although we now carry the senior designation, we were part of the PC revolution. When the internet came on the scene. some of us were in our 40s. Most of us had to use a PC during our younger years and using a PC, tablet, and smartphone is second nature.

However, to the current generation that drives tech and the creation of tech products, seniors are so out of their demographic they hardly acknowledge we exist. I have very seldom sat in a marketing meeting of any of the major tech companies, and even some smaller startups, and heard them say, “We also need to make sure these products appeal to seniors.”

The irony is many seniors have some of the largest pocketbooks and are willing to buy new tech if it is something that really meets their needs. They are also big spenders on their own children and grandchildren. While we look at the current products and services with an eye towards the younger members of our family, we just don’t see many products designed with seniors in mind other than some dedicated devices such as the very easy to use Jitterbug smartphone created by Arlene Harris, the wife of Martin Cooper, who invented the cell phone.

Advancements in things like AR and VR could become very relative to seniors. Look at VR for travel, for example. This demographic could be their largest audience because, as we age and travel becomes more of a challenge, VR travel could whisk us away to far off lands while never leaving our homes. And AR could deliver a plethora of related information layered on top of real world objects that could impact our ability to see and understand the world around us as our physical and cognitive skills change as we age.

I admit I am a bit more sensitive to what I call the Senior Tech Challenge since I hit my mid-60s recently. While I am in relatively good health and mentally strong as ever, I know full well I can’t stop the aging process and, as a techie, I understand tech-related products could be very helpful to me, even as a senior. I hope the younger generation who are creating the next big things in tech include we seniors in their product designs and services and, where possible, even create new things just for us to help us make later years more fun and productive.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *