The Stack Archive

The rise of the Silver Surfer and the ‘offline’ generation

Thu 12 Mar 2015

It may furrow an eyebrow or two among the rapidly-growing tech-savvy ‘silver-surfing’ community, but the fact remains that the over-65s are among those most likely to be disengaged from our fast-paced digital world.

Many people belonging to the older generations feel that they are just as confident and as digitally up-to-date as their younger fellow citizens. The traditional stereotype of the pensioner as a technophobe has long loomed over the 65+ age range, despite research continually debunking this as cliché. A large proportion of this generation are digitally adept and don’t see age as a barrier to their technological prowess – using VOIP services to keep in touch with relatives, online grocery shopping, sharing knitting and golfing tips, and using online dating platforms following the bereavement of a spouse.

My relatives over the age of 65 are enormously engaged with new technologies, and having access to the internet is certainly not the apogee of their technological know-how. They are confident users of mobile phones, e-readers, laptops, and Facebook accounts – a grandfather, who is nearing 90 years old, is embarrassingly always one step ahead of his tech writer granddaughter.

Recent statistics released by the popular online community, Silversurfers.com, suggest that the older generation are widely engaged with social media with more than 6 million over 50s now with registered Facebook accounts. According to the website’s CEO, Martin Lock, Silversurfers.com has seen a “growing confidence in the use of social media in the over 50s,” evident from the high engagement rates. “Some posts attract over 30,000 comments and achieve a reach of up to 500,000 for a single post,” said Lock.


Internet banking is also used by millions of older people, and is as much a reality for their daily payments and transfers as it is for the younger generations. Industry figures supplied this month by the UK banking association BBA, found that HSBC online banking customers in their 70s log-in more frequently than any other age group, and that the number of over 70s downloading its smartphone banking app had increased by over 130% over the last year – its oldest customer was recorded as being 108 years old!

In the UK there are currently 11 million people aged over 65, and this is projected to increase by nearly 50% in the next 17 years to 16 million, according to the most recent Later Life study [PDF] by Age UK. As this proportion of people dramatically rises, it would seem logical to embrace the wave of silver-surfers, as well as encouraging and supporting those people who want to become savvier.

Research has proven key differences between those in their 60s, and those in their 70s and over, which should not be overlooked

All too often tech companies fail to engage with this older consumer market, and they are simply missing a trick. Lock of Silversurfers.com argues that “tech companies need to sit up and take notice.”

“The over 50s not only purchase products for themselves but also for their children and their parents. It’s important that product information and performance data is easily understandable – research shows that purchases will be driven by favourable product reviews and that there is an almost 50/50 split between older men and women making the purchasing decision.

Tech companies must provide clearly understandable product information and consider communicating via social media channels to reach the older generation.”

Hugh Forde, Managing Director at Age UK Trading also argued: “With this segment of the population projected to rise, it’s surely common sense that technology companies ensure that their latest innovations are inclusively designed so that they are easily accessible to older people.”

The patronising approach adopted in the industry recently needs to be put to rest and firms need to stop placing the over-65s together in a sweeping group. Research has proven key differences between those in their 60s, and those in their 70s and over, which should not be overlooked. Market research agency iProspect categorised adoption in the older generation as follows: Confident adopters (60-69) – a group which consumes large amounts of video content, are warm to interacting with brands across social media platforms, and are keen on sharing online reviews. Comfort adopters (70+) – a group who watch more YouTube content on iPads and SmartTVs than any other age group above 30, and are huge e-reader consumers (one in three owning a Kindle or other e-reader device).


However, despite these positive trends 74% of the older generation still do not have internet access and 77% of those do not have any desire to connect. Findings from research group Ofcom showed that 31% of offline individuals in older age groups felt that they had no need for internet, 24% thought that they were too old, 17% did not want a computer, 15% said they did not know how to use a computer, and 3% thought it was too expensive.

The Office of National Statistics has also released that in the first quarter of 2014, 4.78 million people aged 65 and over had never been online. A figure which raises concern when we consider that increasingly more government services are being placed solely online – a shift which will inevitably risk alienating people in later life. The Fujitsu study, ‘Online Government Services and the Offline Older Generation’, which surveyed 1,000 people aged over 60, found that the transition to a ‘digital by default’ government would isolate a large majority of older citizens (73%) who prefer to engage with government services over the phone or face-to-face at local council offices.

There are things that cannot be changed about growing older; deteriorating eyesight, hearing, circulation and memory loss are all given factors when it comes to ageing. However, technophobia is not and need not be one. If the digital nation is a true commitment, we must support and encourage the older generation to realise their connected potential: strengthening their social ties and helping them to remain engaged and active for longer.

Forde of Age UK emphasised that our ambition should be “to ensure that more older people are able to make the most of later life and recognise the huge benefits digital technology offers.” He said that new technologies “can make a real difference to older people […] helping them stay connected with friends and loved ones, make savings and pursue their interests and hobbies.”

Although not everyone, whatever age group they belong to, will want to engage with new technologies, it is crucial that no one is left unwillingly alienated from the digital world and that family, friends and community initiatives continue to support those who want to join the revolution.


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