17 million American seniors still not on the Internet — an interesting marketing problem or an urgent health crisis?

One of my favorite websites is Aging in Place Technology Watch.  Laurie Orlov not only does a great job assembling important new data, but she is also a very tough-minded observer with a keen eye for what’s real, what’s pie-in-the-sky, and what’s outright BS. She has a new item about seniors on the Internet, and she finds an angle that is very disquieting.

She cites a new Pew survey indicating that Internet adoption is now at almost 85% of adults. But it’s only 61% those aged 65 and up. (In Canada, the number is very close – about 65% adoption.)

We can expect these non-adoption figures to drop steadily, as more Baby Boomers, who are emphatically online, enter the 65-plus cohort and exert their influence on its numbers. But for the moment, the numbers are worrisome because, as Orlov correctly points out, the Internet has moved from “nice to have” to “need to have.”

Access to the Internet in 2015 is an essential – like food, work and transportation. Find a job, search for a health problem like yours, learn a skill, locate a ride, buy a house, vacation, or used car. Book a trip, a restaurant, or find a repair shop. This is not your Internet of 2000.  Today’s Internet has disintermediated nearly all other ways find answers to any of those questions…  

Yet for many seniors, access to the Internet is unaffordable.

…and nobody is dealing with it.  If you are reading this, you know. Access to the Internet is essential. Stores, banks and government agencies are closing.  So what’s happening to get the rest of those seniors online?  Are you seeing broadband plan discounts for people aged 65+, let alone the 17 million real seniors aged 75+? If life expectancy at 65 averages 88.8 for women and includes those with significant chronic disease, how do they find resources needed to survive without a) access to the Internet or b) committed family who will act as their online proxy? What is the government policy proposal that addresses this audience? And what are the carriers, Google, Facebook, Apple, or any other large tech Peter Pan innovators doing about it?

I haven’t really seen much about this topic — the Internet as an essential for health and well-being, and one that is unavailable to a growing number of people.
Usually when we read about the Internet and seniors, it’s about marketing — either the slowness of the older age group to “catch up” or the underestimation, on the part of marketers, as to just how many have, in fact, “caught up” and how big a potential customer pool is being ignored by slow-on-the-uptake marketers. But Laurie Orlov provides a much-needed reminder that as so much moves online, lack of access becomes an urgent social issue. This urgency will only grow as health care continues to shift from being exclusively about treatment to also being about prevention, wellness, management of chronic conditions, and ongoing care. The central role of the Internet in delivering the necessary information — and access to resources — will make Orlov’s call for action ever more important.
I urge you to read the entire article.

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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors

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