The life of a retired senior can be a quiet one, with family and friends spread far and wide. But gaining mastery of the digital world at this later stage in life can mean the difference between suffering in isolation and leading the life of a (virtual) social butterfly.
Over the last two years, several studies have shown that seniors engaged with technology and connected through social media tend to have higher self esteem and are less likely to fall into depression, especially those living alone or in a retirement home.
Elaine Daley is an 85-year-old Texan who has been a Facebook user and YouTube viewer for three years now. Daley, who goes online about two hours a day, says social media has helped her to feel much more connected to loved ones, especially because she lives alone.
“I do think that I socialize more now online, and to some extent offline, due to these programs. I most enjoy being in touch with family and friends and also the way the Internet has enlarged my horizons through the vast amount of information to which I have access,” Daley adds.
But this octogenarian isn't an anomaly in joining the social media bandwagon late in life.
Currently, it's the 74 plus demographic that is showing the quickest gains in social media consumption. The most recent figures from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project state that 56 percent of Americans over 65 are online, 43 percent of whom use social networking sites—mainly with the goal of keeping in touch with family members.
Thanks to a new marketing push toward this demographic, seniors aren't seeking to learn computer basics anymore, they want to know how to update their profile picture on a chatting program, subscribe to a YouTube channel or change privacy settings on Facebook (don't we all). And educators across the country are responding to this growing need.
Retirement homes, senior centers and even universities are quickly offering more free or low cost courses like, “Introduction to Social Media for Senior Citizens” at Southern Louisiana University or social media classes for seniors at the New York City Public Library.
California resident Dipak Bagchi, 73, doesn't use Facebook—he prefers FaceTime and logs in four to six hours a day online. Besides frequent email use, Bagchi uses Skype and the FaceTime app at least once a week to video chat with relatives in India and his grandson, who lives several hours away. When he's not contacting family, Bagchi can be found advancing his cooking skills, learning about home repair or watching movies on YouTube—all of which he accesses from a PC—one of two laptops or his recently acquired iPhone.
However, despite this surge, there are those in the senior demographic who keep their distance from the social media hype for reasons of privacy and simple lack of interest.
In Vermont, a 70-year-old retired business owner and former librarian says she does go online for three to four hours a day but mostly to read the news, use a language learning program or to review books on LibraryThing.com.
“I have older friends who are very tech-savvy and use their computers, but mostly it's for family or business purposes, and few are interested in Facebook type sites, except if their work requires it. I've heard my friends say that they feel they have more important things to do or that most interactions seem to be 'trite' and 'all about me',” she says.
But social media works because of the basic human need for attention—and a recent study shows looking for love never gets old. Conducted by professors at Bowling Green University, this study reveals that the over 60 demographic is the fastest growing group to jump into online dating. It's even been claimed that 25 percent of second marriages among baby boomers began online. Sites like AARP Dating, OurTime.com, and SeniorMatch.com—as well as the thousands of MeetUp.com groups created by seniors seeking activity partners—are reflecting the desire of more and more seniors to socialize online as well as offline. And as seniors rapidly sharpen their digital skills, this sure proves there's nothing holding them back.