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The Internet and a Graying World

My posting has been light since my 94 year old father-in-law has been living with us — after a fall and before he transitions to assisted living — and now my 81 year old dad is going in for major colon surgery tomorrow. I’m honored to be serving these two men and have been doing so with a lightness in my heart and a lot of love and expect it to consume my summer.

This time serving our dad’s has been a profound learning experience on many levels. Since I write about technology and the meaning behind it, I’m not going to leap into the spiritual aspects, a discussion about honoring our elders or even how I’m worried I won’t capture their stories on audio or video, but instead about the macro trends of a graying world.

An experience like mine makes me think deeply about mortality, aging, and my work (Internet and Web centric management consulting) and what it means when a HUGE part of the Internet-centric market are Seniors with the time, inclination and interest — not to mention a higher net worth than any generation in history — embrace the Internet.  All of us in the Web/Enterprise 2.0 game need to figure out how to cater to this group of folks.

This is NOT just a US-centric phenomena…it’s a global graying one. The National Institute of Aging produced this report Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective which provides a succinct description of population trends that are transforming the world in fundamental ways. The report, using data from the United Nations, US Census Bureau, and the Statistical Office of the European Communities as well as regional surveys, identifies nine emerging trends in global aging and starts off like this:

We are aging, not just as individuals or communities but as a world. In 2006, almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 and older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to 1 billion–1 in every 8 of the earth’s inhabitants. Significantly, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 percent by 2030.

As someone living in the USA, I’m thinking about the impact of this on my own country. This report from the Congressional Research Service on The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States (PDF) presents some sobering statistics. The one that caught my eye is what is projected in 17.5 years (2025): a US population of 349M with 63.5M over the age of 65 (that’s 18.2%). Besides the obvious negative ramifications on Social Security and healthcare costs — and who will pay for them — ignoring this market will be detrimental to the health of any company.

As excited as I get about widgets, the iPhone and other gadgets, the more aware I am that as people age it gets extremely difficult to see tiny type, see color in an appropriate way (the cornea yellows causing everything to get almost a sepia tone to it), and completely new paradigms of a user interface or technology are harder to grasp cognitively. Yet the need to connect with loved ones, friends and others socially is higher with Seniors than any other populace (my opinion).

As you deliver your products and services, be aware of the acceleration in a Senior demographic and what their unique needs might be. Plan for it because the world is graying and Seniors are already using the Internet in droves (for more facts see this Pew Internet report, Older Americans and the Internet, which states in part:

22% of Americans 65 and older use the Internet. The percent of seniors who go online has jumped by 47% between 2000 and 2004. In a February 2004 survey, 22% of Americans age 65 or older reported having access to the Internet, up from 15% in 2000. That translates to about 8 million Americans age 65 or older who use the Internet. By contrast, 58% of Americans age 50-64, 75% of 30-49 year-olds, and 77% of 18-29 year-olds currently go online.

Hey…if my 81 year old Dad can learn computers and embrace the Internet (as I talked about here), this isn’t some academic study but rather is a real market. Just think about all of this as you develop or create your stuff…

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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