Raymond Morin
May 12, 2016

Generation C: The Disappearing Digital Divide

Seniors Finally Take the Social Network Train

Recently, I came across an article in the New York Times which confirmed what I already observed for some time in my surroundings. In the era of Web and social media, the clash of generations becomes a myth. The digital divide that separated the new generations from the boomers and seniors such a short time ago, is disappearing.

Katie Rogers, the author of the article, recounts an investigation by the State University of Pennsylvania (Media Effects Research Laboratory). It shows that seniors and older boomers (aged between 60 and 85 years) now mimic the youth in taking to the popular social networks, including Facebook. Their main reason is to keep in touch with family and friends. They now understand the need to learn and integrate new tools of the Web and social media to remain engaged and productive in today’s digital society.

After resisting social networks for many years, they finally overcame their basic tendency towards technophobia and outright dislike/disinterest, to master aspects of this new ecosystem. And they are flocking to social media in ever-greater numbers! During the past five years, they are the age group that has the highest adoption rates! By now, most seniors and boomers are retired (or semi-retired). They have the means to stay at home, and often take the opportunity to extend their careers by launching new businesses.

Boomers and Seniors Overcome the Digital Divide

Since 2010, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has chronicled similarities in the use of social media tools by both generations, particularly at:

  • Email: Boomers vs. Gen Y 91% 94%
  • Research gear: Boomers vs. Gen Y 88% 89%
  • Health Info: Boomers vs. Gen Y 78% 85%
  • News: Boomers vs. Gen Y 74% 83%
  • Product Searches: Boomers vs. Gen Y 81% 83%
  • Purchase of goods: Boomers vs. Gen Y 70% 81%
  • Travel Bookings: Boomers vs. Gen Y 68% 62%


elderly-man-in-wheelchair-with-young-boy-in-blue-coatRecently, a new study from the Consumer Technology Association confirmed it again. Although Generation Y outnumbered boomers in June 2015 (83.1 million against 75.4 million, according to the US Census Bureau), the study demonstrates that the use of social platforms and tools social media, boomers now join millennials on many levels. For boomers, however, Facebook remains the dominant player in the battle of the networks, with nearly 3 out of 4 adult users (72%), including 82% of young Gen Y. But there is a significant rise amongst boomers (50-64) with 64% of users, and nearly half of seniors (65 and over) with 48%.

For boomers, however, Facebook remains the dominant player in the battle of the networks, with nearly 3 out of 4 adult users (72%), including 82% of young Gen Y. But there is a significant rise amongst boomers (50-64) with 64% of users, and nearly half of seniors (65 and over)Click To Tweet

The next most popular networks for boomers, are YouTube and Twitter, which they see more as news and research tools. But their uptake for Snapchat or Instagram remains low, with little expressed interest in these platforms.

Boomers prolong their careers thanks to the Web and Social Media

More recent studies have demonstrated that baby boomers are delaying retirement, whilst prolonging their careers. Those who still occupy decision-making positions have finally overcome the last obstacles to their own digital transition, and easily adapted to the social transformation of their organization. In doing so, they are more involved in the marketing strategies on social networks and have gradually regained consumer confidence, as revealed in the annual report of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Those who cling to the workplace end up turning to mentoring.

boomer-lady_004534Those who choose to leave often do so by choice. And a growing number decided to take advantage of new technologies to make the jump, and revive a career plan they often dreamed of all their lives. In retirement (or semi-retirement), they have the time to devote to their once unfeasible projects, and the new tools of the Web and social media now allow them to do so. They are largely responsible for the boom in independent entrepreneurship observed in the United States and Canada, in particular.

For Boomers, it’s Utility before Entertainment

It is especially in learning and mastering new technologies, that we can observe differences between the two generations. While there was no small number of early adopters among boomers – those who already know very well how to use new technologies; for the vast majority, taming the Web and social media was a long and scary road. The digital revolution was not natural for them.

While there was no small number of early adopters among boomers - those who already know very well how to use new technologies; for the vast majority, taming the Web and social media was a long and scary road. The digital revolution was not natural for them.Click To Tweet

However, they have nevertheless had to take the time to learn to use various social platforms, and understand how to use and integrate them into their lifestyle. Of course, Facebook has proven to be the ideal social platform to connect with family and friends. And in this sense, it is very useful. But before entertaining or discovering the various gaming applications, boomers seem primarily interested in the information they find.

They seek more content that has an educational value and that will enable them to improve their daily lives. The study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that most new Facebook or Twitter accounts of baby boomers are linked to a professional rather than personal use. But when they adopt a platform, boomers remain loyal, and soon found other ways to enjoy it.

The Ripple Effect of the Family and Relatives

bildeAs all studies show, being able to keep in touch with family, grandchildren and relatives, remains the main source of motivation for seniors and older boomers. However, once they become familiar with new applications, they are quick to adopt new practices.

Further into her New York Times article, Katie Rogers recounts the experience of her father, and tells how he quickly became addicted to Facebook: ¨After returning to Indiana from my wedding a couple of months ago, he wanted to be better at keeping in touch with family and with the friends he remembers from my childhood. He told me over Facebook chat (naturally) that his curiosity about what others were up to was his main motivator in finally learning to navigate Facebook.

Now, like the rest of us, he’s hooked. He’s had a ball wishing happy birthday to my friends, commenting on our status updates and sharing his own life’s highlights.

It made me smile because it reminded me of a discussion with an old neighbor during a walk around the lake. With sparkling eyes, he told me how he was now fully enjoying his retirement on the lake thanks to the Internet and social media. He confessed to me that he had almost re-found his youth; there were so many new discoveries.

The True Story of an Elder Among Others

Following the insistent recommendations of his daughter and his son who had settled in the USA with their little girl, he had begun to equip a computer and gradually learn the basics. He told me he now conducted most of his financial transactions online, and could even comment to me the quality of service of each of the platforms.

He had also learned to use other social media tools like Wikipedia and Google for search, and online sales platforms like Amazon, eBay and Kijiji to find products and services. Through online research, he was able to control the video production kit that he had dreamed all his life. Then, he obtained a large screen Smart TV to watch his favorite television series and movies on Netflix. By now, he controls virtually anything he wants from the Web.

Today, at almost 75, he converses regularly via Skype with his family, his children and his grandchildren, and he keeps in touch with his closest friends on Facebook. He follows the recent news on Twitter, and has subscribed to multiple accounts such as AARP and Zoomer Magazine to follow the news. And in return, he candidly admitted to me that he could not do without it, to the point that he had just invested in new equipment to increase the power of the wi-fi around his cottage because he was thinking of buying a tablet. He wanted to get my recommendations. It reminded me of my father (who is now 82 years) when he was introduced to the Web and social networks just a few years. And I’m pretty sure that you also have an old boomer or a senior in your life with similar stories.


Read also:

http://www.pewinternet.org/    (multiple articles)

Generation C: The Social Benefit of Baby Boomers






Image attribution: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_palinchak‘ / 123RF Stock Photo




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Raymond Morin

SMO Senior Consultant, Author/Blogger and Speaker at Virage 2.0
Strategic analyst / consultant for over 20 years, specializing in optimizing Web marketing / social media for businesses and organizations, Raymond Morin is also the author of three reference guides (in French), and co-author of three other books about digital marketing, public relations and human resources management. A recognized professional blogger, in both languages, he regularly presents and facilitates conferences for organizations, as well as in-house training workshops. In English, he contributes monthly to various platforms of professional bloggers and social media influencers. His next book, Generation C - Confluence Marketing at the Era of Connected Consumers, will be published next fall on Friesen Press Publishing.