Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Internet Literacy for Baby Boomers

It’s an undisputed fact that new technologies have the potential to revolutionize how we live, how we purchase and even how we retire. Take smartwatches, for example. The writers at A Better Way in Home Care, an LA Based home care referral service, report that a California scientist named Michael Snyder found a way to diagnose a mild illness through his smartwatch and prevent the onset of symptoms through therapy. This example is just one of many that demonstrate the great benefits of being a savvy tech user.

While the Internet may not be as new as smartwatch technology, it still represents a great unknown to Baby Boomers. However, that seems to be gradually changing. According to the 2016 Technology Survey for Older Adults, Age 59-85+ sponsored by Link∙age and conducted by Aging in Place Technology Watch, 50% of people 75+ use the Internet. This is an impressive improvement compared to 93% of this age group who were not using the Internet back in 2000.

However, at the same time, Boomers are reporting that they find the ever-advancing technology both good and frightening. A lot of this fear comes from the fact that technology is constantly changing and Boomers are slower to adapt to the changes without the proper instruction.

Within the past few years, remarkable changes in technology have permeated society, driven by smaller, cheaper core technologies, slick designs, and must-have information, reinforcing the importance of the following:
·       The Internet is a path to connections and engagement. Adequate access
·       to online information is a basic prerequisite to keeping up with change. The federal government has encouraged individuals to apply for Social Security and Medicare benefits online; and numerous coupons and discounts are only available online.
·       The Internet provides the ability to connect with family members, find new friends, locate a health care provider, learn about a new medical discovery, and buy lower-cost goods and services online.

Within the older age cohorts, access and interest is still limited but growing. Pew Research studies reinforce the digital dividing line for Internet access (regardless of device), finding that 50% of the 75+ population indicated that they go online. This represents a remarkable change over the past fifteen years, when 93% of those aged 75+ were not online in 2000.

The digital divide among older seniors is not surprising, given the complex process and cost to obtain: First, a senior must obtain both an Internet service plan (average price $60/month) and a relatively current device: a PC, tablet or smartphone fast enough to use with today’s graphics-rich websites. It must be customized for the user’s individual needs. Training in device use and ongoing support helps newcomers. A few senior-specialty vendors simplify complexity with senior-focused products or services, but most technology innovation is designed by the young for the young.

Older adults do not see their family members as the path to obtaining new technologies – or for that matter, asking them to use them. And as the updated version shows, health and wellness technology use by older adults has yet to happen – not surprising, because the general population is not yet fully convinced of their benefit

For those seniors, able to afford high speed connections, Internet access links them to families, enables them to learn about and find resources, take advantage of streaming services, and enables them to shop online – versus driving around -- for good deals.
To help seniors become more tech savvy, companies could:
Promote senior-friendly service plans. Having a senior-friendly plan is a good start.5 Offering a plan to low-income seniors is progress. Promoting/marketing it, along with available (and free) training at point of purchase is better
Provide training when upgrades are available. Some carrier and tech reseller organizations see a market for serving older populations and encouraging purchase of new smartphones – critically important because their younger market segments are saturated – and it is fast becoming a chore to get current owners to purchase costly upgrades.
Publicize and deliver more training opportunities. Some organizations have long been offering free online and in-person training for older adults (for example, AARP TEK and SeniorNet). Some of these have partnerships with carriers, identified, as with OATS, on the sponsorship portion of the websites.
Create and market online/telephone support services. If the future is online, then service should be there as well. Assume that over time, seniors will migrate away from special purpose technology and be more likely to acquire standard devices (designed for all), customizing to their specific needs through software.

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