Chapter 3: Seniors and Computer Technology

Article excerpt

Senior demographics

Pick up any newspaper, and you invariably find another article about aging baby boomers. The senior population is fairly well-distributed throughout the states, but a few states do have significantly more seniors than others.

The Administration on Aging reports that seniors comprise at least 15% to 17% of the population of Florida, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. For most states, however, the senior population is 11% to 14% of the total population. The exceptions include Alaska (5% to 6%) and Utah (7% to 8%). California, Colorado, Georgia, and Texas report a senior population of 9% to 10%. (1)

The 2000 census indicated that the states with the largest increase (from 1990 to 2000--over 20%) of seniors includes the states of Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Utah, Texas, North Carolina, Idaho, and Georgia. (2)

Although the trend traditionally has been for people to retire to a warmer climate, futurists are not sure if the aging baby boomers will follow suit. Their opinions are nearly evenly divided about whether baby boomers will stay put or resettle.

Consulting the census as to the number of people aged 55 and up helps a library develop long-range program planning for seniors. Unless the library is located in a young state, or a youth pocket, the time to plan is now.

As staff members peruse the literature on aging, they will find statistics concerning computer use by seniors and learn of the real need for libraries to develop programming to connect seniors with computers.

Encouraging computer and technology use

Most communities lack a broad-based plan to educate seniors on the benefits of computers and technology so the seniors may understand, accept, and use them to better their lives.

Many seniors are still mystified by the concept of communications being able to instantly flow through cables and the ability to retrieve information on almost any topic by using a search engine.

Today's white-collar worker has used personal computers for about 20 years and is fairly comfortable with their use. In fact, workers in their thirties say they cannot remember a time in their life that they have not had access to a computer. The same cannot be said about older adults, especially those who have been out of the work force for a while or have never used a computer on the job.

A study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that although use of computers by seniors was increasing and 56% of all Americans go online, only 15% of Americans over the age of 65 have access to the Internet. (3) Furthermore, the Pew researchers found that 81% of people who said they would never go online were over 50 years of age. (4)

The reluctance of seniors to go online is unfortunate because the seniors who have Internet access benefit from it greatly. Although Internet use by seniors is growing, it is not growing in direct proportion to society's need to use the Internet.

The advantages of having seniors go online

Daily, librarians see fewer materials being released in print as more and more government agencies, service organizations, and corporations launch websites. Information seekers are constantly being directed to websites for information on topics such as prescription drugs, medical care, and insurance benefits.

Additionally, experience dictates that computer usage helps seniors communicate with family, discover new interests, track their investments, find their ancestors, and most importantly use their library. Once older adults learn about computers and how computers can help them, chances are good seniors will use them.

Senior Internet snapshot

The Pew researchers discovered that the seniors currently using the Internet are generally educated (some college), were coaxed online by their children and grandchildren, and thoroughly enjoy the Internet: (5)

* 84% of wired seniors report that they obtained Internet access for reasons unrelated to work. …