Online technology shapes lives of young and old

Online technology shapes lives of young and old
Posted on 11/03/2014

By Councilmember Mike Peterson

The Internet and social media are no longer just for the kids and young professionals: It’s also a great way for seniors to stay connected.

In 1929, the author Figyes Karinthy theorized that we are all just six small steps from crossing paths with anyone else in the world at any given time. His theory is popularly known as “six degrees of separation”. Occasionally, I’m stunned when I run into an old friend or put together a string of very unlikely acquaintances. Have you ever found a connection through a friend of a friend? While this theory was initially proposed 85 years ago, never before has it felt so certain as it does today. With texts, tweets, pokes, and posts, it really is a small world after all.

The use of the Internet and related technologies over the past 20 years has certainly had a huge impact on how the younger generation communicates and stays informed.  The ability to connect instantly with people all over the world is imperative for success in business and equally as valuable for maintaining strong social relationships. While some of us may still need to call our grandchildren for help with our WiFi or to share our latest “selfie”, the plethora of user-friendly options to stay connected with family and friends has gained momentum with a growing segment of our population –  seniors.

The Internet and social media outlets such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are all great ways for older adults to stay connected with friends and family.  For example, my wife and I dreaded the day my son moved to Rota, Spain with our five grandsons to fulfill his military obligation as a Navy dentist. But thanks to the internet and the ability to video-chat, we were able to visit with them weekly to discuss how the kids were adapting to Spanish schools and how my son was enjoying long bike rides along the Spanish coast line.  We watched our grandchildren grow and were able to share in their unique experience from thousands of miles away.

A 2013 report released by Pew Internet Research Project, notes that 77% of those aged 50 to 60 are online and 54% of those 65 and older are online. While visiting a senior center recently it was interesting to note that one of the most popular classes being taught was the use of computers. While young adults will continue to ride the cusp of the social media wave, more and more senior users will discover the benefits of today’s simpler, more convenient mediums of communication.

Decades ago, television turned a nation of listeners of the news on the radio to a nation of watchers of news and media content. Today, more Americans get their news, weather and sports from the Internet than from the newspaper, radio, or television. Want to know tomorrow’s weather forecast? Just ask your phone!  Need the score of last night’s game?  There’s an “app” for that!

You may also find it interesting that some 85% of the 7.1 billion people in the world now have access to the Internet. Around the world, there are 1.28 billion Facebook users, 540 million on YouTube, 187 million on LinkedIn, and 255 million on Twitter. You can even receive regular tweets during and about City Council meetings and from our Cottonwood Heights Police Chief. It’s amazing how technology is changing the world.  If you’ve been hesitant to join the movement, it’s not too late.  There is a social media outlet for everyone.  So go ahead and tweet, post, or link up, with social media, you’re only a few small steps from the ones you love – and the information you need.