Digital Milestones

gabrielle_wallaceWhile celebrating my birthday recently, I was surprised to discover that a rather famous birthday was being celebrated just one week after mine. The World Wide Web turned 25 years old on March 12. Considering how important the web is when it comes to industries like public relations and advertising—not to mention its impact on social interaction—I figured this was a milestone worth noting.

We’ve come a long way since the forerunners of the Internet made their debuts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For an edifying  look at the information revolution Tim Berners-Lee sparked with his invention of the web, take a look at this article: “25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday” by The Guardian.

The web has driven the pace of technological innovation to incredible new heights. As the Guardian article points out with item #23: “The web has been the fastest-growing communication medium of all time. One measure is how long a medium takes to reach the first 50 million users. It took broadcast radio 38 years and television 13 years. The web got there in four.”

Today, the web is so ubiquitous that it’s difficult for people my age to imagine a world without it, and that led me to consider: what does the pace of innovation in the digital age mean to those who remember a time before the world was internetworked?

Are seniors at risk of being left behind as the bulk of our information and interaction migrates online? Or are there signs that today’s seniors are more active and socially engaged—both physically and virtually? I suppose the answer depends on an individual senior’s personality and background.

The explosive growth of the World Wide Web has in some ways divided us as it has expanded its reach into nearly every facet of modern life. While in some cases, tutorials are needed to teach seniors how to turn on a computer and use a mouse, other seniors are more tech-savvy and more active on social media outlets like Facebook than those much younger than themselves.

I’ve interviewed residents of senior communities who are totally comfortable emailing back and forth, some even finding that they prefer to correspond online. However, I’ve also interviewed seniors the same age who prefer telephone conversations or actual in-person visits to ensure that they can hear and communicate well.

The Nielson Norman Group published a report in 2012 which found that since the year 2002, the number of people age 65 and older using the internet grew from an estimated 4.2 million to 19 million users—for an annual growth rate of 16 percent. How does that compare with the annual growth rate of those 30-59? NNG found their rate of increase to be about three percent annually.

Given the rate of growth and enough time, it seems that sooner rather than later everyone will be connected to the web. I wonder how much more advanced technology will be by the time I’m 65, or better yet, when the World Wide Web is 65 years old. Here’s to celebrating birthdays, milestones and new and exciting futures ahead!

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