Closing the Gray Gap

As I travel about I frequently run into people who mention how much they miss the newspaper. This is gratifying to hear and I usually try to steer them in the direction of this web site and blog. If the person is significantly older then my 56 years (as most newspaper readers are), however, I find that they are not in the habit of visiting the Internet.

This surprised me at first, until I did a little research on the subject, and discovered that this phenomena is quite well known and even has a name. It’s the Gray Gap. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it turns out that net-savvyness is inversely proportional to age.

Recent surveys (Pew Internet Project, 2006) indicate that while 72 per cent of Americans overall use the Internet, that number falls to 28 per cent for people age 70 or over. This is in contrast to 89 per cent of those age 18-28. If you are reading this, the chances are you are under 60, as the penetration drops to 54 per cent for those 60-69.

This is further compounded by the fact that, even though Geneseo is a lively college town, we also have a strong legacy as a rural area. Overall 42% of rural residents do not use computers, compared to 31% of urban residents and 34% of suburban residents.

Most alarming, however, is that of those who currently don’t go on the Internet, more than half (57%) say they don’t ever expect to. While it is understandable that many older Americans never had the opportunity to learn the new technologies, the reasons given for avoiding the Internet are revealing.

The most frequent reason cited by non-users for avoiding the Web (given by 54%) is that it is perceived as “too dangerous.” This point was driven home to me recently at a meeting of the Livingston County Highway Safety Board, on which I serve as Recording Secretary.

The board has set up a Technology Committee to bring modern technology, such as satellite mapping, into our meetings. At the May meeting, Livingston County Highway Superintendent Don Higgins hooked a computer with an Internet connection up to a projector. As we were searching for a particular web site, we clicked on a likely link only to have the image of an attractive young lady in a bikini pop up on the screen.

It was nothing more risque than you would see on the average Victoria’s Secret TV commercial, and yet it confirmed one older member’s beliefs about the Internet. “You make one wrong click and they come and take you away,” he said.

This would be funny, if it wasn’t a little sad. The Internet is the most wonderful knowledge and communication machine ever invented and yet a significant part of our population is not enjoying the benefits. I  hope each of you who are computer savvy enough to read this blog will adopt a gray person and help them discover the wonders of the net. Let’s have no senior left behind!

If you are gray and computer literate I hope you will let me know you’ve read this the next time you see me. Or better yet, post a comment!

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