In a year with a global pandemic significantly limiting social interaction, technology became more important than ever, especially for older adults.
New research from AARP found that more older adults (44 percent) view tech more positively as a way to stay connected than they did before Covid-19. In addition, 4 out of 5 adults age 50+ rely on technology to stay connected and in touch with family and friends.
Yet, the report also found that the greater adoption and reliance on technology is uneven, as 15 percent of adults 50+ do not have access to any type of internet, and 60 percent say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem.
“Technology enabled older adults to better weather the isolation of the pandemic — from ordering groceries to telehealth visits to connecting with loved ones,” said Alison Bryant, senior vp of research at AARP. “But it also exacerbated the divide. So much more is done online, and the 38 million disconnected older adults are being further left out.”
AARP 2021 Tech Trends Report Key Findings:
Annual tech spending by the 50+ exponentially increased – from $394 to $1,144. The top three tech purchases were smartphones, smart TVs and earbuds/Bluetooth headsets.
Using technology to connect with others across multiple forms of communication has increased since the onset of the pandemic. Many say they are using video chats (45 percent), texting (37 percent), emailing (26 percent) and phone (29 percent) more now than before the pandemic. As of 2019, about half had never used video chat, but by 2020, 70 percent have, with 1 in 3 using video chat weekly.
Tech use among the 50+ increased particularly in wearable devices — from 17 percent to 27 percent.
50+ use of smartphones increased dramatically. For instance, use for ordering groceries grew from 6 percent to 24 percent; use for personal health increased from 28 percent to 40 percent for activities such as telehealth visits, ordering prescriptions or making appointments; use for health and fitness information increased 25 percent to 44 percent; and use for financial transactions increased from 37 percent to 53 percent.
Half of the 50+ want to learn more about using tech (54 percent).
Cost (38 percent), awareness/lack of knowledge (37 percent) and privacy concerns (34 percent) are the top self-reported barriers holding the 50+ back from adopting new technology.
Privacy concerns continue to be a factor when it comes to tech, with 83 percent lacking confidence that what they do online remains private.
Weekly use of streaming increased to 58 percent from 44 percent, a significant shift in how the 50+ consume entertainment.
AARP has a long history of providing personal technology resources including digital literacy initiatives, practical guidebooks and advocacy on technology issues for the 50+.
As part of our digital literacy work, OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) from AARP offers digital literacy courses, resources and events, which are a key part of the AARP Virtual Community Center, an online destination for AARP members and nonmembers alike.
OATS from AARP empowers older adults to overcome barriers to digital engagement by fostering skills and giving them the confidence they need to use technology and stay connected.
AARP has also long advocated for low-cost high-speed internet solutions for older adults and continued this work by recently supporting the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program.
This program is available to subsidize broadband service for eligible Americans during the pandemic. AARP is collaborating with the Federal Communications
Commission to conduct education and outreach to let people know about the EBB program.
This program was established to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic and provides eligible households a monthly discount of up to $50 toward broadband service.
Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute at least $10 but no more than $50 toward the purchase price.
More information about the program including eligibility is available at https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.