The disappearing digital divide

Not so many years ago, we were blogging about the needs of “silver surfers,” attributing surprising online behaviors to the digital immigrants that were not raised with all the information and tools they could imagine right at their fingertips. Along the way, we urged clients to move the bulk of their communications to digital media despite their protests that their primary (over 40) audiences were not there – yet. In just one telling example, when we held focus groups with doctors less than two years ago and asked about their online reading habits and use of mobile devices, most would not consider reading on computers and were just beginning to see tablets and smartphones as information gathering tools. Repeating the same exploration with doctors in the last few months, we were struck by how dramatically that finding had changed. Online, tablets, eReaders and smartphones are as integral to their daily lives as they are to their children (and grandchildren).

A 2011 Pew study reports that 78 percent of “adults” were on the Internet in August 2011 as compared with only about one in 10 in 1995. In all likelihood, that percentage is much closer to 100 percent just one year later.

The social media world shows similar growth trends. According to the data from Facebook, a combined nearly 28 million people over the age of 45 were active on Facebook in 2011. Further, nearly one third of Twitter users in 2011 were over the age of 45.

The digital divide is clearly a thing of the past. To prove relevance marketers are no longer safe hiding behind perceived age differences as the reason to stick with more traditional media. Marketers need to deliver the information their clients need where their clients are looking for it – which is ultimately online.