Learning To Embrace Technology in Retirement – Traditionally, while grandparents always looked forward to seeing their grandchildren, they may have had a practical reason for visiting. They anticipated an opportunity to enlist their computer-savvy family members into helping them set up their computer or smartphone. Their friends had often advised them: When the instruction manual or the “Dummies” book is too confusing to master, go find a cooperative 8-year-old.
But today, the stereotype of technophobic retirees is outdated. Although seniors still confront challenges to their digital competency, they are becoming increasingly competent with basic hardware and software skills. Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they recognized that online communication is a way to avoid social isolation and simplify life’s practicalities.
Rates of adoption
The gap is narrowing between 60-something retirees and so-called digital natives, the generation that grew up in the information age. Differences between the oldest and youngest groups have decreased over the past decade. At the turn of the 21st century, retirees who routinely conducted their lives online were considered pioneers. Now, those abilities are taken for granted.
In early 2022, the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey collected the previous year. Researchers analyzed U.S. adults divided into two groups, those under 30 and those 65 and older, who essentially represent retirees. The study examined several data points of behavior, such as whether participants possessed their own smartphone, engaged with social media or owned a computer/tablet.
Not surprisingly, 96% of the 18- to 29-year-old age group owned a smartphone, versus just 61% of the 65+ group, but the gap has declined dramatically since 2012. Those over 65 use four times as much social media as they did in 2010, but usage has remained stable among the youngsters. Almost all the younger survey responders used the internet, in contrast to 75% of the retirees.
The struggle to become tech savvy
The difficulties of the transition are compounded for older generations, as many of these seniors had retired before technology became integrated as an expected component of their daily work lives. As a result, they never encountered the needed vocabulary and capabilities to thrive in a digital environment.
At a basic level, they are sometimes dealing with physical constraints. Their manual dexterity may be compromised, making it awkward to manipulate keyboards and small screens. Visual acuity may also have degraded. By retirement age, most are juggling reading glasses, making it more cumbersome to switch back and forth to a smartphone.
Price may be a major factor. Retirees on limited incomes are hesitant to spend on what they regard as unproven gadgets.
Emotional resistance and cognitive limitations create further barriers. Information overload and lack of confidence hold some back. Many retirees are anxious about internet safety concerns — they may create strong passwords, readjust privacy settings and refrain from posting personal information, but they still wonder whether all that will protect them. They are suspicious of social media, which they perceive as a threat to in-person relationships. On top of all those anxieties, they are also afraid of crashing a computer.
Some of this reluctance could be better addressed in the designing of devices and programs aimed at seniors. It is hard for anyone to adapt to new equipment and learning processes, and old habits are powerful. A 2021 AARP study reported that 40% of retirement-age respondents believe new technology has not been designed to match their needs. They specifically blame complexity and inadequate training materials.
The power to transform lives
It is a shame these hesitations persist, as retirees could use the technology to enrich their lives greatly and support their independence. Being task oriented, many seniors need to understand the benefits to make the extra efforts.
Some of these benefits are available now, and others are on the horizon:
- Eye scanners and fingerprint sensors for misplaced keys.
- Virtual assistants such as Alexa to set tasks and reminders.
- Health monitoring.
- Social interaction.
- Text-to-speech conversion.
- Interactive multiplayer games for entertainment.
- Remote shopping.
- Driverless cars (not yet, but on the way).
According to AARP, retirees are coming on board. Among the over-70s, 72% already rely on technology to stay connected.
To explore the world of digital opportunities and technological literacy, speak with your retirement adviser.
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