More than One-Third of People Online Are Boomers

A series of reports by CBS News and USA TODAY explores the aging of an iconic generation and the impact on the nation.

Do you remember a little North Carolina town named Mayberry? Can you describe the revolution that was Kodachrome? Were you a little freaked out when Cyclamate was banned?

If you answered yes for any of those questions, you probably also remember exactly where you were when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and you are suddenly feeling a little nostalgic. The good news is, there are many millions of Americans eager to share that experience online, and plenty of websites to help you reminisce.

"I get a lot of traffic from people who are looking for items from the past," said Ron Enderland, developer and owner of IrememberJFK.com, who claims to get as many as 21,000 unique monthly visitors to his relatively simple three-year-old Baby Boomer nostalgia site. He decided to create the site because he "just woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'You know, I've got all these great memories from when I was a kid. I bet there's a whole generation out there interested.'"

Not only are Baby Boomers the fastest growing group of social media users, they are also taking up an ever-increasing share of overall Internet usage, leading marketers and web developers like Enderland to sit up and take account of them in the digital age.

Despite Census estimates that Boomers make up about 25 percent of the overall population, Boomers now make up at least 36 percent of all Internet users, according to a 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project report. In 2000, they made up just one in four Internet users. Now, as many as 70 percent of the generation's 76 million or so members go online at least once in a while, Pew reports.

Like the rush to social media, Boomers' increased Internet usage is driven as much by technological developments as it is by practical needs. The Pew Project found that more than 65 percent of all Boomer Internet users had broadband in their homes in 2008, up from less than 5 percent in 2000. It is easier than ever to get prescription drug info, look at new photos of your grandkids and check the health of your IRA, so long as you're online.

Baby Boomers' needs are varied, but in general they are interested in the same things that most other Internet users are; They're primarily interested in checking their email and using search engines to research things, but getting health information and the latest news are also dominant online activities, Pew reports.

"We recognize that our members are really interested in lots of different things," said Nataki Clarke, vice president of AARP's Digital Strategy and Operations. "We provide information tools as well as entertainment for them. Boomers are (also) very interested in looking and feeling great as they age."
Clarke said AARP is adjusting to the fact that many Boomers are not retiring at the same rate or at the same age as previous generations.

"They're still working and active and vibrant," Clarke said. "They're retiring much later. They're telling us they can't retire. It's one of the reasons our job search engine is so popular. It's both the economy and a general characteristic of the generation."

Boomers' desire to stay active and vibrant has also given rise to a number of successful Internet ventures that offer brain training, so to speak. Since its 2007 launch, more than 2 million unique visitors have played games on Winster, an online social gaming site geared toward those middle-aged or older, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Other sites are more direct in their approach, offering cognitive training for Boomers who want to put off the effects of old age for as long as possible after watching their parents suffer from the likes of Alzheimer's and dementia. The idea behind these sites is that you can train your brain to be fit in similar ways that you train your body to be fit, said Bob Bicknell, spokesperson for CogniFit, an online cognitive training company.

"CogniFit is a scientifically validated cognitive training program, not a game," Bicknell said. " CogniFit measures and trains fourteen different skill areas and offers a comprehensive training for consumers looking for overall fitness. CogniFit's program is designed to continually adjust to the training level that is optimal for each user, challenging (them), but no so difficult that the user abandons their training."

The number of potential customers for CogniFit and other similar programs will only grow in the coming years, so that even if a few of its older users get frustrated and log off, there are millions of Boomers who countless different interests online who may want to take their place.

"Some of our members are sending kids off to college and some are just having kids," said Clarke, AARP's chief digital strategist. "It's really a mixed bag. The outlook is so different than it was for earlier generations."


USA TODAY: Long-term care insurance worries Baby Boomers
USA TODAY: Five vacations to make you feel younger
USA TODAY: An 'Iconic' Generation

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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