February 5, 2013 4:58 pm

The number of Canadian seniors using internet has surged


 EDMONTON – They are Facebooking, Skyping, and blogging, and increasingly, they are 65 and older. A new report by Statistics Canada has discovered a big jump in the number of seniors surfing the web.

“I blog, and I enter the blog myself into the computer, and figured it out,” laughs Barbara Rankin.

“I had a friend, a younger friend, that had a blog, and she does a lot of travelling,” she explains. “I found it very interesting.”

In fact, that friend’s blog inspired Rankin to create a blog of her own,Thanks for the Memories – Hang with Hippo – that focuses on seniors’ physical, emotional, and mental health.

“I felt that if I could be on a blog and maybe in somewhat a humourous way, without being funny ‘ha ha’, I would be able to pass on some of the things I know through brain fitness and just general background knowledge,” she explains.

Rankin also joined Facebook. She enjoys playing Scrabble and keeping track of her grandchildren’s activities.

“I keep in contact with my grandchildren that way; a little more in touch with what they’re up to.”

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“It just makes me feel like a cool grandma,” Rankin admits.

She’s not alone. The Statistics Canada report – Consumption of culture by older Canadians on the Internet – finds more and more seniors are heading online.

In 2000, less than 10 per cent of Canadians over 65 had been online in the month prior to being surveyed. In 2010, 60 per cent of Canadian seniors were using the Internet.

The numbers don’t come as a surprise to those who work with seniors organizations.

“I’d say that’s the highest demand we have for classes right now,” says Rachel Tassone, a Life Enrichment Coordinator with the Seniors’ Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE).

“I’m getting calls constantly, either ‘I want beginner computers’ or getting on the Internet, wanting social media because their grandkids say, you know, if you want to see my pictures they’re on Facebook.”

Tassone says the skill level of seniors varies.

“Some people really already know a bit of beginner stuff and are going right to social media,” she explains. “Others need beginner computers.”

Tassone says there’s been a heightened interest in computer and internet courses offered by SAGE over the last year or so.

“I’m getting almost a call daily about somebody interested in classes.”

So, what’s pulling more seniors into the cyber world?

“I think communication, socialization,” says Rankin.

“I think it’s wonderful for the isolated senior or isolated person to be able to go online and communicate with others,” she shares.

For fellow senior, James Belle, communicating with family abroad is the big draw.

“I have a son in Germany that I like to communicate with,” he says, “by going to Skype and connecting with his Skype.”

Belle also likes to learn more about new topics online.

“Anything that I want to research I can. When I learn to do it properly I can do that, I can expand in different areas.”

“I use it for lots of things,” says Lyn Hutter, a SAGE volunteer. “I keep in touch with people by email or Skype, family members who are in other parts of Canada, order tickets for football games, check the weather and the news in the morning.”

Hutter has been using the internet regularly for about ten years now, but learning the tricks of the trade wasn’t easy.

“My daughters tried to teach me, and my husband, but it finally took an introductory course here at SAGE. They went slowly and carefully, and from then on I was getting better,” she smiles.

Hutter says learning skills to navigate the ever-evolving medium come easier to some than others.

“I’m amazed. There are 80-year-olds who book their travel tickets and everything else online, it’s just amazing.”

“I’ve seen seniors who can just pick it up and do it, and they’re not the least bit concerned about it,” she explains, “and then others, like myself, are quite inhibited by it for a long time.”

The Statistics Canada report finds that while more older Canadians are using the Internet, they rarely use it for cultural consumption. The majority of Canadians aged 15 to 24 get their music by downloading it, and watch videos online. However, Canadians 65 and older rarely access music and videos online. They prefer traditional methods of listening to music and watching videos.

Another “digital divide” seems to be online consumerism.

“I’m not interested in buying anything online, period,” states Belle. “You can’t put your information online. There are too many sharks that are looking for information.”

Rankin doesn’t buy anything online.

“No, I’m very cautious about that and I will continue to be.”

Hutter buys sports tickets and airline tickets online.

“But, I will not do online banking,” she says.

Tassone feels the motivation is less about economic convenience, and more about social connection.

“So many people, companies now, you now, ‘if you want more information, go online’, even on the radio, it’s like, ‘if you’re interested in this story, you can see more online’, internet shopping, connecting with family on Facebook.”

“So much information you need to go online to get,” Tassone adds. “So, it’s just that you need to feel connected and part of the everyday world now.”


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