May 23, 2006

Seniors and Teens: Not So Different

I recently fielded a question about how to design a program pairing internet-savvy teens with non-internet-using seniors. After explaining that we do not conduct research on that topic per se, I did share some insights about each age group.

Fully 87% of teens go online, compared to just 32% of Americans age 65+. This leads, of course, to a wide gap when it comes to computer skills; there is less of a gap when it comes to the some of the activities each group pursues online. Both wired teens and wired seniors love to use the internet to communicate with their friends and family members (teens are more likely to instant-message or IM their friends and email their teachers, parents, and older relatives; seniors are likely to email, but some do IM). Both age groups love to use search engines to answer questions (the subject matter differs, but the techniques and joy of discovery are similar in both groups). Both groups love to play games (again, the games may differ in content – car chases vs. crossword puzzles – but the enthusiasm is similar).

Teens might need some perspective on what it is like to have poor eyesight or less familiarity with Web design:

U.S. Government: How to design a senior-friendly website http://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/checklist.pdf

And I would try to give seniors some perspective on what it is like to be a teenager online:

Pew Internet Project: Teens and technology http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/63/presentation_display.asp

For extra credit, I would provide some resources about the scope of the issues surrounding old age and the internet:

AARP: Older Wiser Wired http://www.aarp.org/olderwiserwired/

Pew Internet Project: The Future of the Internet as Baby Boomers Age http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/48/presentation_display.asp