My grandmother was born in 1898 and passed away in 1979 – at the age of 82 – long before the Internet became the cultural phenomena it is, today.
One of my fondest memories of Grandma Pearl was watching her amazement as Neil Armstrong took “one small step” on the surface of the moon back in the summer of ’69. More than forty years later, I realize that the “giant leap” he took, when he first set foot onto the lunar surface – late that summer evening – was actually a bridge between my grandmother’s generation and my own.
Grandma and her contemporaries were born to the sound of rushing horses and buggies at the turn of the last century. Due to some great strides in medicine during the twentieth century, she and many others were fortunate to live long enough to witness the live television broadcast of the Space Shuttle Enterprise’s inaugural test flight on August 12, 1977. Simply amazing for them and – perhaps – much more culturally stimulating than anything my generation will have ever experienced in our complete lifetimes.
“Grandma” in the Twenty-first Century
What would Grandma think about the Internet? Well, her daughter – my mother – is now 87. The world was a little bit more “modern” when she came into it in 1923. Her pre-teen years were filled with radio broadcasts, cars and early airplane travel. So, there has been much less cultural and technology shock in her life as compared to her parents. In fact, mom adapted early and quickly to using ATMs, cell phone and, yes, digital casino slot machines. She is quite aware of the Internet and many of its capabilities. While she doesn’t own her own computer and probably never will, she is – at least – aware of what can be done on the Web and can do some basic things on community equipment or that of family and friends.
According to comScore, a digital measurement company, 27.4 million people age 55 and over engaged in social networking in July of 2010, up from 16 million one year prior. These numbers continue to grow as more and more senior citizens learn to embrace the Net. There are so many new seniors signing on to Social Media that there will be a definite need for devices with bigger buttons, bigger screens and bigger keys, just like cell phones and digital clock radios already offer.
“Oldies” are Becoming “Goodies” on the Web.
What is mostly driving senior citizens online is their ability to communicate with others at greater distances more frequently and often in real-time. They are easily able to share photos, videos, links, contacts and status updates with grandchildren and other family members living apart. Social Media has the impressive ability to strengthen family ties across generation and eliminates some of the loneliness that many senior citizens and shut-ins very often experience.
According to AARP the top four Social Media sites for people over 60 are Google, Facebook, Yahoo and YouTube. A quarter of the organization’s members are using Facebook, and the number is rapidly growing. Twitter use has also grown. Ten per cent of Internet users over 50 are using Twitter or other status update services like TweetDeck and Hootsuite, according to Pew.
Among the more popular niche social media sites for seniors is Eons.com. This site offers senior-relevant information and allows for sharing with others. . Other popular senior-oriented sites include ELDR.com, which features articles, interviews, photos, blogs and suggested links to other helpful websites. Growingbolder.com focuses on the 50+ Boomer market and features videos, videocasts, podcasts, sharing forums and expert blogs. All of these senior-oriented niche sites seem to understand what this 50+ market is looking for and continually strives to maintain their interest. Retailers and their advertisers are well aware of all this and that senior citizens represent: a large market share of retail dollars and are a constant resource. All the more reason that all seniors, going online, must be properly educated in the safe use of Social Media.
Seeking Greater Knowledge, Understanding and Online Entertainment
Outside of family and friends, seniors use Social Media tools to learn more about topics that interest them. Senior can watch old television shows and movies on YouTube and Hulu and see videos from “their time.” There is much to offer them through the availability of free or low cost E-books, expert articles and interesting blog posts. They can also play games, either by themselves or with family and friends. According to a recent study of social gaming sponsored by PopCap, 22 per cent of social game players are ages 50 through 59 — the largest age bracket — and 16 percent are ages 60 and older. Educationally, many seniors are now taking online courses to keep their minds active and even to establish online businesses to help defray the higher cost of living in retirement.
A Pew Institute study determined that people suffering with a chronic disease are more likely to reach out for support online. So, the Web is also playing an increasingly important role in helping seniors manage their health issues. Many actually Blog and regularly contribute to online health forums or online support groups that are popular with people coping with major illnesses such as Cancer, Diabetes and Alzheimer’s/Dementia. There are also special groups for bereavement and elder companionship.
Despite the rise in social networking activities, Pew Institute research found that seniors over 65 are among those least likely to have high-speed Internet access at home. In fact, less than one-third of them have broadband. This is probably due to the recurring cost of yet another service and their lack of technical understanding. This is rather unfortunate as many in the senior population are less likely to see the lack of broadband as a real disadvantage – and it is. Fortunately, there are a growing number of social community websites focusing on the specific needs and online concerns of senior citizens.
Project GOAL (the Project to Get Older Adults Online) works with aging organizations like AARP to communicate the importance of getting our older community online – safely and productively. Celery is a New York based company that is dedicated to helping those who don’t use computers, including seniors, remain up-to-date on sites like Twitter and also by E-mail.
Grandma Would Have Had a Brand New Bag
My grandmother would have been amazed by all of this and her world would have been brought much closer to her in terms of staying in touch with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren! Reconnecting with old friends still living in New York and those that move to warmer climates would have been great therapy for an older woman with mobility issues and greatly reduced income. It sure would have been better than the alternatives available in 1979 – watching soaps, game shows and cheesy commercials for things she couldn’t get to the store to buy, anyway. Imagine what E-commerce would have meant to her; though she would have welcomed it with extreme caution.
Thankfully, some things never change. Wisdom is a universally desirable trait that senior citizens have been respected for possessing for centuries. In the twenty-first century it is a pre-requisite for going on-line, first and foremost. Yes, Grandma Pearl would have done fine in the Internet Age. She probably could have taught some youngsters a thing or two about cautionary practices.
About the Author:
Marc LeVine is Vice President of Community Outreach for The Center, a therapeutic program affiliated with Advanced Behavioral Care Services, serving the needs of Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex County residents suffering from mental illness or substance abuse Licensed by New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services & Division of Addiction Services and with two regional locations in Neptune and Lakewood, The Center is recognized for advocating a focus on goal setting and attainment, commitment and structure. The program urges and challenges its members to take their places in the community as healthy, productive, contributing and vital individuals.