The oldest baby boomers will turn 65 this year, joining a growing senior citizen population learning to stay young at heart with the promise of social networks.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
Surveys and a growing number of anecdotal evidence indicate these older populations understand the impact of technology, if not the exact ins-and-outs of its operation, and are making strides to join and contribute to the digital world.
Silver surfers are tweeting entertaining messages of solidarity, Skyping with young grandchildren, and browsing online to enrich their lives, battle loneliness and make the most of their sunset years.
Granny Closes In on 80,000 Twitter Followers
Josephine Lamberti, an 80-year-old grandma, decided to take up a Twitter quest to liven up her twilight years. In her @J_Dimps (short for Josie Dimples) Twitter bio, the Staten Island woman stated her ambitious goal for “80K followers (or maybe a million) before I die!”
And she’s working hard to get there, at last count racking up 24,000 tweets and recording more than 73,000 followers. Lamberti’s tweets entertain her, but they also can delight and inspire others.
For example, the grandma recently mused, “#SometimesIWonder, If I’m the only 80yr old that looks in the mirror and smiles. Retweet & be happy with yourself!” Another shows her ability to dispense advice, saying her secret to staying so sexy at her age is due to “lots of red wine and meatballs.”
Lamberti’s tweets often include humorous pictures of her beaming smile and zany antics, likely accounting for her diverse Twitter flock, which includes celebrities like actress Hayden Panettiere, baseball player Jose Canseco, and teen idol Jesse McCartney. NBA player Nate Robinson invited Lamberti and her 24-year-old grandson Donny Brandefine, who helped her set up her new digital podium, to a game after chatting over Twitter.
Brandfine helped Lamberti decide on her Twitter quest when they were talking about things the grandmother could do keep busy, which also includes videos on YouTube and a Facebook page. When grandchildren are involved, that’s another important element in helping seniors get online.
Closing the Generation Gap
High schools and universities are creating programs to connect tech-savvy young people with area senior citizens to help bridge the technology divide. The kids, who tutor their elders on browsing, downloading apps and social networks, learn a thing or two in the bargain.
The students, some war veterans and others’ widows seeking out remedies to loneliness join these one-on-one tutoring gerontechnology programs, and learn new ways to connect to the outside world.
For example, more than thirty senior citizens enrolled in a class at New York’s Pace University earlier this year, bringing a willingness to learn about technology, along with their canes, walkers and wheelchairs, to class.
They graduated this week, each making their way to the podium to receive their diplomas and say a few words.
“It took a while, but this is waking me up,” graduate and 84-year-old Rosemary Nickola told the L.A. Times. Nicola briefly dropped the course in frustration after her first tutoring session and following trouble with her Internet connection. But she was determined to get back online, a feat she accomplished with some help from her son and the program.
Many of the graduates expressed gratitude to their young tutors and noted their education in exploring the digital world helped alleviate isolation and limitations, like difficulty shopping and communicating, which often come with age.
The New Senior Center
Last year half of all U.S. adults reported using social networking sites in Pew Research Center’s survey, and the surging number of Facebook and LinkedIn users is up from just five percent six years ago.
“The graying of social networking sites continues,” said Mary Madden, senior research specialist and co-author of the report. “While seniors are testing the waters, many baby boomers are beginning to make a trip to the social media pool part of their daily routine.”
And older populations are increasingly going mobile with their newly discovered online lives, underscored by a Nielsen report that 30 percent of those aged 55 and older own a smartphone. Nielsen’s findings may help carriers, manufacturers and others sell smartphones, services and apps to a generation that appears willing to upgrade handsets for the right prices and features.
And technology companies are taking note of the opportunity. For example, Intel and GE, as part of a joint venture, announced a proprietary tablet platform for the elderly, recognizing their increasing value as mobile technology consumers.
The simple tablet device, featuring an embedded webcam, is designed to help increase well-being and social interaction among seniors, as well as allow care providers easy ways to monitor patients. The software includes wellness surveys, brain fitness games, community calendar events, medication reminders and social networking and targets seniors living in group housing facilities, as well as elderly people living at home with private care.
Beyond Loneliness to Retain Mental Sharpness
In addition to technology products designed for older populations, apps for people of any age can help with mental sharpness is fueling interest and adoption.
A recent study found playing Angry Birds and other smartphone games can help prevent the growth of the protein amyloid, thought to hasten and cause dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions associated with memory loss.
“There was no emphasis on what games were played, but just at what age and how often people were participating in brain stimulating activities, including reading, writing, and games,” said Dr. Susan Landau on the study, equating their effectiveness to rattling off Shakespearean monologues or engaging in a strenuous game of chess.
Whether it is to battle loneliness, expand horizons, or a simple resolution to get with the times, senior citizens are demonstrating a growing willingness and ability to bridge the digital divide. These efforts, which often require the help of younger population, also build generational ties, and may account for more people guessing correctly, “I think that’s my grandpa on Facebook!”