The Great Generational Divide: Technology

Murray, KY – 25-year-old Adam Shull is representative of young professional adults. He's an entertainment reporter at the Paducah Sun. He says he uses the web mainly to keep in touch with friends and family who are geographically scattered across the globe.

Shull -- Socially is the way to describe it for me. Facebook and then Twitter as well. Just social life on the web, and a lot of colleagues and people I deal with professionally are also on there as well. So we're all just kind of engaging each other with work and just for fun.

Shull says the only way he stays close with his best friend from college who's living in France is with Facebook. Young people aren't the only age group taking advantage of online communication. Kim Parker is a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center in Washington DC. She says the study she co-authored finds that middle-aged adults are increasingly using technology, much in the same way younger adults do.

Parker -- It's the 65 and older that are the real outliers. So when you think of young people being really hip in terms of their use of technology. That really extends now into middle age and older. It's evening out and you've just got this oldest generation that hasn't adopted these technologies and may not.

Parker says middle-aged people typically get started using technology in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the real technology gap between young and old comes with going online and using cell phones. Nearly seven out of ten people under 65 use the internet on a daily basis, compared to the four-in-ten of those over 65. Murray State Mass Communications Professor Dr. John Dillon explains more about these middle-aged online users.

Dillon -- People ages roughly 50 to 70 sometimes referred to as the young-old, meaning that they are aging and obviously on the older side of the median age, but nevertheless they want to keep up with technology and what's going on around them and they're likely to want to get in the pool and swim along with everybody else.

Dillon says this young-old age group is catered to by websites like where older people can be a part of an online community where they share skills about new technologies and hobbies. He figures the young-old term may come from being young at heart, if not older in body. Dillon points out that these generational gaps can often be seen vividly in the workplace.

McNeely -- We don't see as many requests from younger professors in general. Especially from the newer professors from the last couple of years seem to be pretty tech-savvy.

That's Tim McNeely. He's a Technical Coordinator at Murray State. He says most of the support requests he gets from younger professors are things they shouldn't be expected to handle on their own and it can vary with older professors.

McNeely -- We have some extremely tech-savvy. We also have some that really view the computer as a fancy typewriter.

Cell phones are another technology driving the wedge between generations. Kim Parker says only 5% of people 65 and up use cell phones as their main connection. While almost three out of four young adults under 30-years-old receive all or most of their calls on their cells. Adam Shull is one those. He, like many, doesn't even have a land line.

Shull -- I'm available 24-7 on the cell phone.

Though, he's not among an increasing number going online via mobile technology.
Dr. Dillon indicates that this 24-7 connectivity may be a deciding factor against middle-aged people going completely wireless.

Dillon -- The more plugged in you are, the more perpetually connected you are to the world and to people who know you; the more likely you are to be beset by text messages and people sending videos and Youtube clips and so forth.

In this digital age, online use is becoming an integral part of the workplace. So what happens when you can't connect?

Shull -- Even if the internet goes out for 10 minutes at work just because of a glitch or something, you can really feel the difference in just how we get our work done.

Shull says without online access his job is hindered significantly. He says for personal use he could go without, but would very much dislike it. Dr. Dillon agrees that the web is an important in just about any professional setting. However, for some older people, the connection-withdrawal may not bother them as much as their younger co-workers. For WKMS news, I'm Chris Taylor.