Are Seniors Turning Into Geeks? Busting Myths About Technology Use

Published In Blog

November 10th, 2017

It boggles the imagination to envision how technology will be used by those in Generation Z — the teens of today, born from the mid-90s to mid-2000s — when they arrive at senior status in the years to come. Many of them were some form of tech-savvy before they stepped foot in preschool. But recent research shows that more seniors of today have also embraced technology with a stronger grasp than most people assume.

Marketing firm Porter Novelli, which polls the same 6,000 adults three times a year to track changes and trends in attitudes and lifestyles, recently released data related to consumer behavior around technology. The poll revealed a few similarities and some surprising differences among the people in the generations that now comprise seniors.

Seniors were grouped and profiled as:

  • Older Boomers (ages 61 to 69) — the most tech-savvy of the senior age categories studied, largely because of their heavy use of smartphones and a tendency to shop online
  • Younger Silent Generation (ages 70 to 79) — not quite as tech savvy as the Older Boomers, but not far behind; 75% own smartphones and nearly half use Facebook or Twitter at least once weekly, and
  • Older Silent Generation (ages 80 and over) — the least tech-inclined of the senior groups, though growing numbers in their ranks own and use smartphones, considered a potential gateway into other technology.

In a recent presentation on how seniors are keeping up with current events and connecting with others, representatives from Porter Novelli set out to bust a number of myths surrounding seniors’ use and knowledge of technology — particularly technology enabling them to get specific kinds of information and to keep connected to others. In the interest of full disclosure, firm members did admit to a possible bias toward online behaviors, since the polled answers were collected over the Internet. Still, the reality painted is starkly different than the picture in most peoples’ minds.

Myth #1: Seniors Don’t Use Social Media

While most people assume that seniors — defined here as those 61 and older — were no-shows at the digital revolution, the reality is that 55% of that population partakes in social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

About 52% of those ranging in age from 61 to 69 use Facebook at least weekly, which decreases some to 43% for those age 80 and older. Few seniors — only 4% — use Twitter, but despite the current daily hubbub over tweets emanating from the oval office, the bigger truth is that only 12% of the total population actually uses it, so the low usage rate is not far off the normal mark.

Myth #2: Seniors Rely on Their Doctors for Health Information Rather Than Seeking It Online

When asked how they find information or advice about health problems, 42% of those aged 61 to 69 said they use a search engine to plumb the Internet, though that share decreased to 26% for people 80 and older. As people age, a growing proportion ask friends or family members for medical advice: 28% of those age 61 to 69, and 39% of those 80 and older.

Still, and unsurprisingly, about 80% of the older seniors also consulted a healthcare professional such as a doctor or nurse about medical matters.

Myth #3: Seniors Don’t Spend Their Time Playing Games Online

About 1/3 of senior of all ages play console video games and other games online, according to the Porter Novelli polls.

That finding meshed with the results of studies recently reported by the AARP, which concluded that a greater proportion of older rather than younger people report playing video games weekly or more often; 37% of 50- to 59-year-olds compared to 43% of those age 60 and older say they play every day. Another surprise: Such gaming was more widely embraced by women than men. Women are more likely to be gamers who play daily and report they play more today than they did five years ago.

Research analysts posit that online gaming is a way for seniors to “stay engaged.” However, some may also be harboring the hope that the activity may help improve brain function and even ward off Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia — an idea that’s been disputed by the most recent medical studies.

Myth #4: Seniors Rely on Traditional Media as Information Sources

In these days of allegations of fake news and doctored facts, seniors seem to have joined the skeptics in scoffing at the truth of the information presented in a gamut of sources.

The percentage of those who responded “Trust completely or a lot,” be age, when asked “How much do you trust the information that comes from each of the following sources?”
AGE 61-69 70-79 80+
Newspapers 16% 16% 26%
Magazines 8% 8% 15%
TV News 18% 18% 26%
Radio 12% 10% 13%
Google 13% 8% 16%
Facebook 3% 1% 3%

Despite finding little to believe in, however, many of those polled still report using all these sources. Seniors across the spectrum are more likely than younger people to use traditional media, such as television and print to as their news sources, but a robust number also consult social media and online news.

Myth #5: Seniors Don’t Own Smartphones

As mentioned, the myth that seniors as a group have rejected smartphones is dissolving before our eyes, according to some sources.

Consolidated results from a number of Pew Research Center surveys. Around 42% of adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones — a substantial increase from just 18% in 2013. And about 67% of seniors use the Internet, which is a 55% upward shift in just under two decades.

The Porter Novelli polls also debunked the myth that seniors may own phones, but don’t use them, with the majority of those surveyed who owned smartphones also claiming that they used them at least once a day.

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