Monday, July 28, 2008

Are seniors really unplugged?

Bloggers, pundits, political cartoonists, late-night comedians and yes, me, continue to have fun with Senator John McCain's perceived lack of computer skills.

When asked about using a computer McCain said, "I'm an illiterate who has to rely on his wife for any assistance he can get." All this, and the real state of computer literacy among seniors is the subject of an article I just read online.

Associated Press Reporter Jocelyn Noveck has some interesting anecdotal and research data on seniors and computing. She writes about 106-year-old Kathryn Robinson who has been online since she was 98!

Overall however, according to the Pew Internet Project at the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of people over the age of 65 are online.

When you factor in that the start of the baby boomers are among the fastest growing segment of our population, that's millions and millions of Americans.

A closer look at the Pew research shows that race, wealth and education play a very important factor. "About three-quarters of white, college-educated men over the age of 65 use the Internet," says Susannah Fox, director of the project.

In her article, Noveck also quotes Tobey Dichter, CEO of Generations on Line, a group that helps bring seniors, including the 106-year-old Robinson, into the digital age as saying McCain may be in “digital denial.”

McCain campaign spokesperson Brooke Buchanan has been quick to respond that the Senator does indeed know how to browse the Internet and check web sites. Wife Cindy McCain is often seen with a BlackBerry® in her hand, and one of the McCain daughters actively blogs about the campaign.

Barack Obama, in contrast, is seen punching away on his BlackBerry all the time.

For the 106-year-old Robinson, being computer savvy means being able to overcome the impact of a stroke. In many ways, it's her lifeline to the outside world, from shopping to communicating.

According to Noveck, the computer has been a lifesaver to her.

When you're a Senator or President, you have a huge staff to do all sorts of things for you, including respond to e-mails; research on the Internet and all matters of online activities.

But at the ripe old age of 106, Kathryn Robinson is on her own. Just like the rest of us, regardless of age. Robinson, however, proves that age is not a barrier.

Senator McCain could make this a terrific campaign issue by showing that age or circumstance is not a barrier to computer literacy. He needs to lead by example.

Computer literacy is the great equalizer. Just ask Kathryn Robinson. Or better yet, send her an e-mail.

John W. Scherer
John is CEO & Founder of Video Professor, Inc.
You can reach him at