Connecting the Generations Safely

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President of AARP Thought Leadership. The post is focused on a new nationwide survey that examines the growth of social networking and online communication among people of all ages.

Working together, AARP and Microsoft are exploring how technology is changing society for the aging population. In 2009, the two organizations looked at the unique relationship baby boomers have to technology and how those 78 million older Americans are actively shaping the devices, software and services of tomorrow by the choices they are making today.

We saw then that Boomers are connected, online, and comfortable with technology. Boomers like me have been using computers in the workplace since the eighties. Looking forward, this means that there will be a diminishing technology divide based on age, and usage and comfort will be ubiquitous – provided the tech industry produces products and services that are intuitive, not laden with features all designed with multiple tiny black buttons that only the eyes of a 20-something engineer could love.

From a privacy and security standpoint, this also means that boomers, who today are very comfortable doing online commerce and banking, and sharing sensitive personal and financial information, will be the older online users of tomorrow. This inevitably will affect both the future and evolving perception of online security and privacy, and how industry needs to respond.

More recently, AARP and Microsoft sponsored a nationwide survey of more than 2,100 people between the ages of 13 and 75 titled “Connecting Generations.” Together, we set out to examine how the explosive growth of social networking and online communication—from e-mail to texting to video chats—is affecting friendships and family relationships among people of all ages and across generations. A critical element of this work was to understand whether the different generations were connecting to each other safely, if at all, and how they perceived these online bonds.

The quantitative survey was then followed by two salon-styled discussions in New York City where, together with Microsoft, we sat down to listen to people across various age groups about online communications and safety. One participant, Ruby Bailey, a grandmother, shared her heartfelt story about how she uses video chat and Webcam technology to watch her four-year-old grandson at daycare. Deborah Diamontos, a woman of the “sandwich generation,” said she talks online to her children and her parents almost daily.

Next week on Safer Internet Day (#SID2012), Feb. 7, AARP and Microsoft will release the results of this joint research. The human story illuminated by this research is a rich display across generations, including some surprising results about what the multi-generations are, and aren’t, connecting about.

The research, and other Microsoft/AARP collaborative projects (including “Get Connected,” a recently held series of free events on social media in Washington State, and “Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation” research) are investments highlighting AARP’s and Microsoft’s mutual commitment to understand technology needs and preferences. We want to help keep older Americans safe and enable them to get the most out their online experiences. We’re hoping to build digital literacy for people of all ages.

I often get to hear stories of families changed by technology. I hear about grandfathers seeing their granddaughters’ first steps on Skype. But as teenagers and baby boomers learn Facebook together, what rules are they setting? Are they comfortable in the same online space? We tried to answer these questions with this research.

Tune in on Feb. 7 as we release and discuss the fascinating findings. We’ll be holding an “Experts Hour” on Microsoft’s “Safer Online” Facebook page. Hope to “talk” with you then!

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