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Older Americans embracing technology

New study, national conference spotlight graying digital world

Created date

February 27th, 2009

A new study released by the Consumer Electronics Association and TNS Compete, a market research firm, indicates that people over the age of 50 are using and enjoying new technology such as the Internet, cell phones, and HDTV as much as younger Americans. Study findings For example, 80% of people 60-plus used a cell phone in the past week, nearly equal the usage rates of 18 to 34 year olds. And 71% of them used an Internet search engine in the past week, compared to 77% of 18 to 34 year olds. There are some differences between older tech users and their younger counterparts, however. While their interest in portable MP3 players and video games is growing, older Americans are less likely to spend much time with those technologies.

71% of 60-plus Americans used an Internet search engine last week, compared to 77% of 18-34 year olds.

Another interesting finding of the study indicates that while older Americans do research products they plan to buy on the Internet, they still put a lot of value in getting advice on electronics purchases by a real person in a brick and mortar store. As much as the older generation is embracing new technology, they do report being easily frustrated when devices are too complex. Despite their aversion to feature-laden gadgets, older Americans clearly want to use and enjoy the benefits of new technology. Unlike their grandchildren who seem to be born with computer skills, it takes genuine effort for older people to learn how to navigate through our increasingly digital world. The enormous popularity of Retirement Living TV s programRetired & Wired, a TV show that guides older people through the high-tech marketplace, clearly illustrates just how interested the older generation is in learning and adapting to new technology. The Silvers Summit One of the hottest trade shows on the planet has to be the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held each January in Las Vegas. While most people are just barely through reading the directions on the new cell phone or DVD player they got for the holidays, the industry is in Las Vegas rolling out the next generation of high-tech gadgets. As the world s largest tradeshow for consumer technology, this is where new products are unveiled and new trends are spotlighted. Recognizing the power and promise of older tech enthusiasts, this year CES presented the first ever Silvers Summit to spotlight products and trends designed to enhance the lives of older Americans. The conference showcased brain games; consumer medical technology; communications devices; and media that keep "silvers" engaged, entertained, connected, and healthy. "It s clear to me that technology is the magic ingredient that will help the world s aging population live richer, more productive and healthier lives," says Robin Raskin, co-founder of the Silvers Summit. On the horizon One of the most interesting exhibitors at the Silvers Summit was the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT). A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and funded by the National Science Foundation, QoLT s mission is to design technology for people with reduced functional capabilities. Says Curt Stone, executive in residence at Carnegie Mellon University and director of QoLT s Foundry, "We try to bridge the gap between a person s intent and their capabilities by using adaptive technologies that anyone can use." Some of the long-term projects QoLT is working on is the stuff of science fiction novels, including robots that load dishes into the dishwasher and electronic grocery lists that direct you to the exact aisle and location of the items you need. More immediately, QoLT plans to introduce a number of unique tech products, including the Lean and Look, a computer application that recognizes when the user is leaning into the screen and intuitively increases the font size; MemExerciser, a life-logging device that helps Alzheimer s patients and others with impaired memories; and a highly intuitive navigation program called the NavPrescience which allows for more personalization than what is currently available in consumer GPS navigation systems. Though many of QoLT s products may initially be marketed toward older Americans, it s not such a stretch to see their appeal to people of all ages. After all, just because you can easily load dishes into the dishwasher doesn t mean you wouldn t happily hand that chore off to the family robot. For more information about the Silvers Summit,