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Seniors getting more tech savvy to stay connected


John Miner and Morris Lamont, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:05 PM ET

Want to keep in touch with grandma?

Think Facebook and Twitter.

Social media took off as the turf of the young and tech-savvy, but legions of senior citizens are now using such sites to connect with family, friends and acquaintances, Statistics Canada reports.

In its first measure of social media use by Canadians, the number-crunching agency found that for people age 65 and above who use the Internet, fully 36% use social networking sites.

While that’s just a fraction of the 96% of 15- to 24-year-olds online who access social media sites, it’s a number that’s certain to grow, said Carmi Levy, a London-based tech analyst and writer with voices.com.

“In many respects, it’s a purely practical process,” he said. “If grandma doesn’t start using Instagram, she’ll have no way to share pics with the grandkids and no way of communicating with them in a meaningful way.”

Amy Walsh doesn’t need to be told about the older generation crossing the digital divide.

Recreation director at the Windermere On The Mount retirement residence in London, Walsh said she’s seen a steady increase in the use of technology and social media sites by residents over the four and a half years she’s worked there.

“30 to 40% of the people that come in now are already using social media,” she said. “They have their iPads, their laptops.”

Receiving and sharing family photographs has been a big incentive for other residents to learn how to use the technology, she said.

It also gives them a sense of pride.

“They are willing to take that little bit of risk and then the reward is immense,” Walsh said.

Besides networking and entertainment, Walsh said some seniors use the Internet to stay on top of their finances.

“A lot of residents are still into trading and want to know where there money is and what is going on,” she said.

Mary Bigney, 92, a Windermere resident, has embraced the Internet for everything from banking to watching TV shows and communicating with her four children.

“They send me pictures and I send them pictures,” said Bigney, who has an iPad, iPad mini and laptop computer.

“I browse, look to see what’s on and if it interests me, I watch,” she said.

Levy said it’s no surprise that social media trends skew toward younger age groups.

Kids tend to pick up — and take to — new technologies both faster and more enthusiastically than their parents or grandparents ever did, or likely will,” he said.

When future technological innovations come, younger people will be the first to use them in big numbers.

Like technological tastemakers, they’ll determine which services live and die and which ones eventually go on to become world-beating and universally used,” Levy said. “Over time, older groups of users will get in on the act as they more methodically recognize how new technologies are changing the way we live and communicate,” he said.”‹

SURVEY FINDINGS

— On average, social media users have 228 Facebook friends

— 15- to 24-year-olds average 393 Facebook friends

— 32% of Canadians text-message their friends daily

— 18% e-mail their friends daily

— Use of social networking sites consistently declines with age

— 96%: Ratio of 15- to 24-year-olds using social networking sites

— 87%: Among 25- to 34-year-olds

— 76%: 35- to 44-year-olds

— 58%: 45- to 54-year-olds

— 36%: 65 and above

john.miner@sunmedia.ca

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