Internet chat rooms and late night surfing are no longer the sole domain of the square-eyed younger generation. Senior citizens are taking to the World Wide Web as the number of 'Silver Surfers' soars.
Leading by example: German politician Edmund Stoiber logs on
The Over-50's are logging on to the Internet in surprisingly high numbers, according to a symposium on the 'Silver Surfer' phenomenon held at Frankfurt University.
The week long symposium, put together by the Frankfurt-based senior citizens Web site feierabend.com and Deutsche Telekom, has been organised to discuss the boom in sites aimed at the Over-50's. It also reveals the increasing numbers who are using the Internet for research and entertainment purposes.
In 1995, three percent of net surfers were older than 50 years of age; today that number has risen to 20 percent. Estimates suggest that by 2003, a quarter of all Internet surfers will be in the 'Silver Surfer' age bracket.
Germany is a country with an aging population. The former Christian Social Union's Minister for Family Ursula Lehr, told the German wires, "We have more people over 60 than under 20." In many areas, this will become problematic in the future, she said.
Senior business boom
For the specialist pages on the Internet catering to senior citizens, that’s good news. With over 4.5 million senior citizens online in Germany, businesses are waking up to this previously untapped market.
Internet businesses and E-commerce service providers have begun recognizing that senior citizens make for an especially lucrative clientele.
"At the moment, seniors account for a strong consumer sector," said Lehr who is also a certified gerontologist, a scientist that studies the biological, psychological, and sociological phenomena associated with aging.
A study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin shows that most seniors connected to the World Wide Web are able to spend up to 600 euro per person every month. Because many of them are bound to their homes, shopping online is a popular activity.
About 60 percent of wired seniors have already ordered something over the Internet at least once, the study indicates.
Special "silver surfer" sites
Pope John Paul II in the Vatican chat room.
The explosion in pages catering to the interests of senior citizens, similar to feierabend.com, proves that there is a market on the Internet for leisure time and information sites for the Over-50's. Regular services like news, entertainment and travel sites are all being tailored specifically for this new 'old' generation of cyber surfers.
And once they are online, most give the pages their undivided attention. Compared to today’s youth, who quickly click to the newest interactive and animated sites once they lose patience, the older generation of slower more patient surfers tends to be more methodical in its use of the Internet and ultimately gains more satisfaction from time online.
A study by British organization Age Concern shows that senior citizens use the Internet very much like the younger generation, with the two sexes showing interest in varied subjects. Men prefer to use the Internet to pursue hobbies and find out information, whereas women see the net as an alternative to the telephone, using it to chat with friends and families. Among both sexes, over-50's are four times more likely to visit ancestry and genealogy sites than the average younger Internet users, according to Age Concern's research.
New quality of life
The Internet has given many a new lease on life, making it possible for housebound people and relatives of families divided by distance to keep in contact. It is the perfect bridge to the outside world, an antidote to crippling loneliness and a practical tool for communicating with children and grandchildren. It's faster than an ordinary letter, and it gives older people a feeling of "keeping with the times" and remaining sprightly and mentally fit as one grows older.
Almost all seniors agreed, that once they use the web they become hooked, with two-thirds agreeing that it had had a positive impact on their lives.