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Starting a blog to stay in touch with family or friends is not unusual. Unless, perhaps, the new blogger has recently celebrated her 102nd birthday.
A steadily rising percentage of US adults over the age of 65 count themselves as internet users.
Five years ago, only 35 per cent of seniors used the internet, according to Pew research. Today, nearly 60 per cent do. A smaller portion of seniors have access to fast home broadband connections at just 47 per cent, but that too has risen quickly. Five years ago, only 19 per cent used broadband.
The 102-year-old blogger was participating in a study with Sheila Cotten, an academic working on a book about how to get the elderly online.
“Helping older adults to see how computers and the internet can be useful in their lives is the best factor for getting them to use computers,” said Ms Cotten, a professor at Michigan State University.
But the elderly are also being encouraged to take to the web by falling prices of basic computing equipment, the growing spread of broadband connections, convenience and the impact of younger family members using email and social networks. Forrester Research in 2010 found that people aged 46-64 accounted for 25 per cent of the total population, but more than 40 per cent of technology purchases.
Research two years later by Nielsen, the global information company, found that the 50-plus generation spent nearly $7bn online and accounted for 41 per cent of those buying Apple computers.
For people who have not yet made the leap, new strategies are needed to bring others online, researchers say.
“People who weren’t online in the early 2000s were people who had access issues – they didn’t have a computer, they didn’t know how to sign up for an ISP, or they didn’t have the money,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of internet and technology research.
Now, he says, the hurdle is more about education and comfort with the digital life. Without reliable tech support – either through a community organisation, or a patient relative – some struggle to get online.
Taro Smithson volunteers as a teacher of computer literacy classes at the San Francisco public library. Many of the senior citizens who attend the class, he says, are intimidated by computers.
“A lot of people say ‘My son gave me a computer but I don’t know what to do with it,” he said.
Others, however, either dislike computers or fear the risks of the internet, says Mr Rainie. Those people will simply remain offline.
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