INTERNET SECOND HOME FOR 'SILVER SURFERS' IN SOUTH AFRICA
'Silver surfers' are becoming the fastest growing demographic group, according to Online Publishers Association (OPA). "Eschewing their technophobic tendencies, and coaxed online by their grandchildren, over 65 year-old wired seniors are getting so hooked on the Internet that many of them consider cyberspace their second home," says Matt Buckland of the OPA.
"Whether new to the web or aging Internet-loving baby-boomers, they are becoming avid online researchers, seeking information on every subject from theatre and travel reviews, hobby tips and weather reports to medical facts and financial data. Reading the news is also as important to this emerging stereotype, as maintaining family ties (via email) and managing their health."
The new digital divide created by retirees seems to have brought Internet usage full circle. As a distinct cohort, wired seniors look like the early Internet population. With 60% of them men, they are more likely than their offline peers to be married, highly educated and enjoying relatively high retirement incomes.
And they're having fun on the Internet, according to the OPA. They love playing games and listening to music, but are reluctant to conduct commercial transactions online. And, because they are not yet as technology-savvy as younger generations, older people are more vulnerable to software intrusions - sitting ducks for unwanted software invaders and viruses.
"But older people have a natural sense of caution born out of fear that one wrong click will land them in dangerous territory," says Buckland. "This inherent prudence is encouraging them to not only adopt more spyware, but take greater precautions against online fraud."
While silver surfer trends are being set by the US - where 22% of over 65s use the Internet (a jump of 47% between 2000 - 4) - they are only just starting out in SA, where high broadband costs have been prohibiting widespread Internet use. Silver surfers are mostly retired so cannot use the office for surfing, which is the primary place where people log on in this country.
In the UK, where broadband use is easily affordable to the masses, there is even an annual 'Silver Surfer Day', on which younger people are encouraged to train their elders in Internet usage.
"Until South Africa's prices come down, our wired seniors will lag behind the rest of the world, denying online advertisers the chance to connect with potentially lucrative retirees with money in their pockets and online shopping time on their hands," concludes Buckland.