Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

On Boomers, Seniors and Technology Myths

If I hear one more person tell me that they have an “older” client who doesn’t use a computer, doesn’t text, doesn’t like Facebook and doesn’t watch online video, I’m going to scream.

I don’t know where this idea came from – that Baby Boomers and Seniors don’t use technology – but it just won’t go away. It’s one of those urban myths – like they staged the moon landing on a movie set – that just won’t go away. Maybe it gives some people comfort to think there are other hold-outs to modernity, too. But unlike most other absurd claims, this one is frequently harmful to the (dis)believers. Every moment they prevent themselves from believing that older people don’t get technology, the tighter they screw the lid down on their growth potential.

It’s a very old myth, and widely spread. I’ve heard it in every state, and multiple continents. Even those the middle-aged people who once sat in my class with their arms folded like Motorola Razr phone, insisting their clients demanded newspaper ads, didn’t use Twitter and didn’t even have high speed internet have now become the very age of  people they said didn’t use technology. Only now they’re arguing with me about it in a Facebook group, from their iPad, connected by wireless broadband .

So, when this little gem came across my screen today, I couldn’t resist sharing it. According to Nielsen, “soon-to-be” Senior citizens are buying smartphones at the fastest growing rate of any group of Americans. To wit:

Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 are adopting smartphones at a faster rate than any other age group. Just about 30 percent of all mobile-equipped, soon-to-be seniors now own a smartphone, marking a five percent jump over Q2 of this year.

Yes, seniors and boomers aren’t adopting smartphones as fast as Gen X or Gen Y, but that doesn’t mean they’re still ringing up Ernestine and asking to be connected to Murdock-5-8608. There’s probably lots of things they’re not adopting as fast as other groups – like crocs or Lady Gaga – but that doesn’t mean they’re sitting disconnected in an easy chair, flipping through the Sears catalog waiting four to six weeks for home delivery! In fact, it’s not just smartphones that older Americans are adopting at record pace. Pew Research notes that boomers and seniors have already adopted new technologies at high rates.

  • 50-59% of younger boomers (45-55) use social media; 40-49% of older boomers, and 10-19% of seniors do, too
  • 50-59% of older boomers (56-65) watch video online; 40-49% of seniors (65-73) do as well
  • Nearly 40% of people over the age of 74 do online banking
That last stat should put to rest any belief that “older” Americans prefer realtors who write classified in the newspaper, send them hand-written notes and don’t want them to whip out an iPad in a listing presentation.

 

I’ve often thought that this persistent misunderstanding of the modern consumer was because people generalized from an exception. They had one older client who didn’t have a smartphone or a computer or running water and therefore they extrapolated that all of their older clients wouldn’t have it either. But even if that were true, does it make sense to think they don’t want their doctor, attorney, banker, and especially real estate agent to use them, nonetheless?

 

More likely, I’ve observed that we want to believe the world is the way we’d like it to be. Maybe we’re not comfortable using these newfangled gadgets. Maybe we’re concerned about the money it will take to buy them, or the time it will take to learn to use them. All valid concerns; but none entitles us to our own facts. And the fact is that older Americans not only control most of the wealth in the country. They’re spending it on plenty of high tech gadgets to use. At any age.

Which means that as long as you’re hoping to earn their business, you’d better not be counting on the fact that they don’t use technology; or expect you to show up with it, either. Let’s put this myth to bed once and for all.
  • I’m wondering if you mean Boomers and Seniors, or real estate agents… ?

  • Info

    I Skype regularly with my father, who owns 3 computers, an iPad, a Kindle and a Blackberry. He’s been on Facebook for many years. He’s 85 years old.

    It is a total myth that older people don’t use technology. And for real estate, if they seriously don’t, their KIDS do.

    It’s still not a valid reason for advertising regularly in the newspaper, which is the justification I always hear.

  • Brad Yzermans

    both…ha ha.

  • Bob Patterson

    So I’m in my mid 50’s. I have an HTC Evo 4g smartphone that smokes. I use Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin. I have a slingbox so I can watch my home TV through the internet because I travel a good bit. I used to use Netflix streaming video. I text my kids because that’s the only way they communicate. Talk to them via facebook. The list goes on. My brother is 63. Has the new iphone4s. We text. etc. etc. My entire age group of friends has smartphones. One big difference. We don’t freak out when we can’t get cell coverage and are no longer connected. 

  • Sort of makes you want to drive the people who say “my clients don’t use technology” out to a pasture, hand them a blanket and some old MLS books for “their reading pleasure” and wish them the best, huh?

  • Selling houses doesn’t mean they’re all little houses on a prairie! :>:>

  • Graham Morland

    I believe its all about adoption, and adoption is all about ease of use. I am a senior who was part of a generation that began the design of all this whizzy stuff for businesses back in the 70’s. Been using email since the early 80’s (ie before the internet), had a cell phone in the early 90’s, and an early adopter of transportable computers and eventually laptops. What I find with serving my older clientele and friends is that some some will not use newer technology tools at all, or at best use the most basic of functions, while others can’t wait to get the newest gadget. It’s all about their previous backgrounds. Another important point about seniors is if you give them a compelling reason they will accept, adopt and use technology.e.g I have many friends who have children and grandchildren that moved abroad and when skype became available had no hesitation in adapting themselves to instant visual communication versus the old snail mail.

  • Boomers are clearly becoming more comfortable with technology and the internet, which is also evidenced through boomers driving online sales: http://www.varsitybranding.com/viewpoint/index.php/2011/11/boomers-driving-online-sales-study-shows/

  • Always love your “Gen” posts! Just because older folks aren’t the most rapid adopters doesn’t mean they’re still climbing a telephone pole to make a call to the folks in the big city! (I’m sure Eddie Albert got that.)
    It’s worth considering they may have more free time with which to adopt…
    Cheers, Matthew!

  • I would disagree with much of what you said.  There is a technology divide between generations.  I think in large part, those older than 55 tend to struggle with technology.  The older you get, the more challenging technology becomes.  They adopt some things but don’t know how to use them.  Many are still figuring out how to use their cell phones.  My dad has had a cell phone for a few years now, mostly because I paid for it for the first couple of years.  Yet he still doesn’t know how to get his voice mails off it.  He does have a PC and can a fair amount on it, but that is about his limitations.  My father in law worked on the apollo program, space shuttle, etc. before he retired.  He retired early because Rockwell was making everyone use computers and he did not want to learn how to use them.  He eventually learned the basic functions when his hobby grew into a small business but he was another that struggled with cell phones, etc.

    My older sister is around that 55 mark and she can use the base functions of a computer and blackberry, even had HD TV.  But she too struggles with most technology. 

    I think the line between those that throw themselves into technology and those that don’t start around birth of the video game generation.  Was the arcade you went too as a kid was packed with skee ball and pin ball machines or Astroids and Space Invaders?  That probably indicates how well you deal with technology.

  • Jay:
    Thanks for your comments. I hear what you’re saying, but I’d suggest we be careful not to make the “exceptions” the rules; the data is pretty clear that Boomers are doing very well in adopting and using technology, although each of us works at our own pace. Also, would you agree that even if you knew a Boomer who was struggling with technology themselves, wouldn’t they want their AGENT to use it a proficiently as possible, even if the client didn’t fully understand it?
    MF