Mobile-first technology is bringing our seniors the promise of the digital world

By: Libby Jacobson Fox
A “mobile-first” generation of seniors can find the Internet at their fingertips.

It’s no secret that smartphones have enabled unprecedented access to the internet and revolutionized how people communicate, consume, and get things done. In fact, according to a recent Pew survey the mobile first demographic – those Americans who lack “home broadband” and connect instead via mobile devices – increased more than 60 percent from 2013 to 2015. While forgoing high-speed home broadband internet in favor of smartphone-only connectivity may be perceived as a problem to some, many companies and government agencies view this trend as an opportunity and are adjusting their websites and services to simply meet people where they are.

Seniors, in particular, are a small but growing slice of this “mobile first” demographic pie: the percentage of those 65+ who have a smartphone but no home internet connectivity has more than doubled in the span of two years.

VZ Employee Young An shows a senior how to use his smartphone.

For many seniors, mobile may be a better option

For seniors, unshackling themselves from the cable-connected desktop they’re used to and embracing a smartphone-only lifestyle may not be a natural transition. They didn’t grow up with the innovations of today and may feel intimidated, or not understand how the technology works, or not realize how much easier it can make everyday tasks. Understandably, the thought of this shift can seem like more of a burden than a benefit.

As part of a broader effort to meet seniors where they are going and help them harness the variety of mobile-optimized services that public and private sector entities now offer, Verizon hosted a mobile technology training session earlier this summer, which drew 29 seniors in Washington, DC. Local Verizon employees and representatives conducted a smartphone and tablet “101-level” tutorial, covered essential internet safety tips, and provided an in-depth exploration of apps that can help seniors accessing communications tools and essential services.

DC Council member Brandon T. Todd and Mario Acosta-Velez lead the class

Mario Acosta-Velez, Director of State Government Affairs for Verizon, was on-hand to share a few online safety tips with the class. Mario has been a driving force behind this program in the District, working with local leaders to develop and publicize a schedule of training seminars throughout the rest of the year. He shared his reasons for launching the program: “We started this effort in DC to help seniors can feel more comfortable using advanced technologies and start to envision a future in which they stay connected with their families, friends, and health providers and not feel ‘left behind’ by the use of old technologies. We are proud to see how seniors are embracing and experience first-hand the positive impact of technology in their lives.”

Staying connected with children and grandchildren

Several participants shared their reasons for attending: to keep in touch with their kids and grandkids, or to learn how to easily access Metro schedules, health care services, and banking needs, among others.

DC residents Sandra Cox and Valerie Hamilton, both persuaded by their daughters to buy their first smartphones, talked about the benefits of a hands-on training session where Verizon tech experts showed them how to use their devices. “When someone shows you something, you see the sequence,” said Sandra. “When seniors get older, we don’t hold onto things like we used to. Young people just try things, but seniors are afraid they will make a mistake.” Both Sandra and Valerie appreciated Verizon’s efforts and agreed that having someone show them exactly how to send texts and take photos on their own phones was empowering, because they are now comfortable doing it by themselves.

Seniors also learned how to protect themselves from becoming victims of online scams. As people asked questions and shared their experiences, it became apparent that many participating seniors had the same concerns and were glad to learn how to protect themselves.

Connecting them digitally is a major way we can ensure they remain active, involved, informed, and thriving in their communities in the Ward.

Councilmember Todd

A local leader understands the needs of his community

Underscoring the broader mobile-first trend – and the importance of empowering seniors through smartphone use – was the presence of DC Councilmember Brandon Todd (Ward 4), who prioritizes the needs of seniors in the areas of DC he represents. “I’ve heard a strong desire from many seniors for assistance in this area,” said Councilmember Todd. “Connecting them digitally is a major way we can ensure they remain active, involved, informed, and thriving in their communities in the Ward.”

In fact, Councilmember Todd gave out his personal cell phone number to the participants and asked that everyone send him a text message – to show off their newfound skillset. Before the event began, the request to send a simple text may have seemed like a daunting task. But at the conclusion of the workshop, when asked for a show of hands of how many people texted Councilmember Todd, hands shot up around the room and, in unison, a few seniors said, “And, he texted me back!”

The mobile revolution has helped close the internet adoption gap across all ages, ethnicities, locations, and almost all income groups. At Verizon, we are committed to empowering Americans to deliver the promise of the digital world – even if it’s one text at a time.

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