“Join Me on Analog Island”
Older adults reflecting on technology say it has helped society, but there’s a big downside
While the future may be about apps and artificial intelligence, older adults aren’t sold that tech is always the answer. “Join me on analog island,” quipped Eric Beyer, expressing a preference for getting things done using 'old school' methods such as postal mail, phone or in-person while acknowledging he may be in the minority. With the web’s fourth decade upon us, Beyer, a healthcare executive in his 60’s, is part of a now-dwindling population that has context, and can reflect on what life looks like with– and without– an abundance of technology. Beyer's viewpoint is particularly relevant with deeper interactions such as with friends and family, or those between a person and their financial advisor, doctor or lawyer, where long-term relationships and trust are of paramount importance.
In the end, most say technology has helped society, but they share key pro’s and con’s.
When asked to judge technology’s impact overall, the vast majority of older adults say it’s provided a positive influence, according to the Age-Friendly Institute study.
The Age-Friendly Institute asked a nationally representative group of age 50+ adults a series of questions about technology, such as whether they’re often presented with tasks they would prefer to accomplish via more traditional means. Answers were evenly split. Those agreeing with Beyer’s anti-digital sentiment responded with comments such as the “overall impact [of technology] is good in getting things accomplished such as paying bills, getting services, email, but at the same time the risk of scams, people addicted to their phones and us all being divided by social media is out of control.”
In the study, those joining Beyer on "analog island" were forceful in their opinions, characterizing technology as being a two-edged sword. Said one respondent, who summed up a perspective shared by many: "Technology definitely has made companies more efficient in their operations. However, high tech has also caused companies to lose that 'high touch' with their customers. Young adults have lost the ability to interact with others. They would rather communicate electronically than carry on a face-to-face conversation. The same is true with adults in business. The ability to communicate face-to-face with customers has deteriorated to the point that college graduates have a difficult time communicating face-to-face in their jobs. Social media has brainwashed young adults with a great deal of false information. Users would rather believe Facebook than research and find out real facts. Technology has definitely has provided some very positive advancements in our world, but it has also been a detriment to the human side of our world."
As a customer, it's so much better talking with someone versus a phone tree or automated attendant - Eric Beyer
Older Adults Are Online and Adept with Technology
While older adults are much less likely to be online constantly, they're now adept with technology. Four of five respondents are comfortable using technology in day-to-day tasks. This helps to reduce ageism in workplace settings, say labor experts. Whereas employers used to make assumptions about older people’s inability to navigate the digital world, that problem has diminished significantly.
The Age-Friendly Institute surveyed a nationally representative sample of older adults age 50+ in September 2023. There were 339 respondents.