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The Roast of the Silver Surfers

*The following is an awesome guest post by Forrest Whaling, my new friend I found at MyBlogGuest. Psst, if you want to find new blogging friends and exchange cool guest posts like the one below, join MyBlogGuest ;)*

By the age of 8, I should have been keen on the idea that my parents’ generation was doomed. While they barely trusted me to pick out my outfit, I certainly could not trust them with the TV, VCR, or any other device that had buttons and required electricity. I guess I just mistook them for being stubborn at the time.

Now, at age 24, I realize they may have been at a disadvantage during the advent of the Internet. Right now, these “Silver Surfers” (defined as baby boomers ages 45 to 63) make up roughly 30.9% of the total online population according to a study conducted by eMarketer. Senior citizens over the age of 65, on the other hand, make up less than 10%.Why the disparity? I believe the Silver Surfer generation was at the perfect age when the Internet was becoming hip. While the still had the desire to be cool, the generation above was too old to give a damn.

I remember the day my father brought home this top-of-the-line unwieldy box made by Dell. Most likely swindled by some nerdy commission-based employee at Circuit City, he was nonetheless proud of himself. I mean, this thing had a 56k modem that allowed us to connect to the Internet and check e-mail. My parents were now HIP! The cacophony of beeps and static noises it spewed forth as our family huddled around and watched all three stages of the AOL sign in screen was magical.

“Welcome…You’ve got Mail”

“Hot damn!!!” said my father, smitten with his purchase. But the celebration was short-lived:

“Ok…so how do I do this crap? What is all this stuff?” hoping that if he squinted hard enough at the intimidating colors and animations, the answer would appear.

“Click on the mailbox picture Dad….duh!” I exclaimed.

After that swift sucker-punch to his ego, he cautiously clicked the icon to reveal our first “Welcome to AOL” email. We were in love. We were cool, we were WITH IT!  Eventually, my parents got the hang of it, and my mom actually became quite the e-mail hipster. The Internet was a new and fascinating place, capable of bringing us news, forwarded jokes, and information from all over the world.

NOW PAUSE.

This snapshot of the Internet, as it was in 1998 with its simple email and browser capabilities, is still what many old people think the Internet is and should be. I will call it the OlderNet for the sake of this post. With the boom in technological advancement over the past decade or so, these Silver Surfers are having trouble staying on the wave. However, as they approach a whopping 1/3 of the active users on the Internet, they are too just hard to ignore. As an Internet marketer and social media researcher, it is of huge importance that I understand and cater to their paradigm. Let’s take a look:

Cognitive lock-in, a psychological term for the idioms “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” plagues their generation. They became comfortable with the OlderNet. It worked just fine. Now there are blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, streaming videos, and other advancements that make the acquisition and distribution of information faster and simpler.

But that doesn’t matter. The theory of cognitive lock-in suggests that, despite logic, these old farts will prefer to do things the old way even if there are new and objectively ‘better” ways of doing the same thing. We are all guilty of this to a degree. Everybody, regardless of age or gender, will exhibit signs of attachment to past successful behavior. This is the crux of building and maintaining a brand image, and marketers know this. Once they hook you, it is easy sailing. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything other than Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Heinz Ketchup, or Chef Boyardee soups in my life. Sure, there are probably better soups than Beefaroni, but I don’t really care, Beefaroni has always gotten the job done.

But here is the kicker…why are the generations below our beloved Silver Surfers not stuck in a state of cognitive lock-in when it comes to technology? The younger generations have embraced Web 2.0’s social networks, wiki’s, video streaming sites, blogs, and forums. However, the majority of Silver Surfers are still fine snacking on the OlderNet’s digital Beefaroni. If we rewind back to the story of my dad trying to figure out AOL (which, btw, my parents still refer to the Internet as “AOL”), I think it will shed light on the root of the problem:

They are afraid of technology.

There, I said it! Bin-Laden, identity thieves, and the Poltergeist are lurking behind every corner, waiting for them to make that fatal click. Meanwhile, the younger generations are willing to press any button, move any file, and sign up for random sites because all because we were introduced to advanced technology at an age where curiosity outweighed caution. If we pressed too many buttons, we’d just reboot. If that didn’t work, then we would reboot again, or hit it, or blow on it. We didn’t care; the computer was our slave, not the other way around. By using this trial-and-error mentality toward technology and computers, we began to pick up on patterns, and actually figured out how and why the computer did what it did. It was not magical, it was not out to get us, and it was certainly not perfect. It is this mentality that continues to encourage younger generations to explore the current and evolving trends of the web.

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to change the way the Silver Surfers behave. The old idioms have withstood the test of time for a reason. Sure, not EVERY old fart is afraid, and there are hundreds of brave ones signing up for Facebook every day. And yes, they are awkward and unwanted but you still have to respect them for trying.

So I propose a roast. Help share your favorite Silver Surfer anecdotes, commonalities, and pet peeves. I am sure you can think of something. And to any old people that happened to find this, I encourage you to defend yourself. Happy surfing!

forrest whaling The Roast of the Silver SurfersForrest Whaling is an Account Manager at Location3 Media, a full service Digital Marketing Agency in Denver, CO. To read more interesting articles, visit their ExpertSEM blog. If you would like Forrest to write for your blog, please leave your request in the comments or visit MyBlogGuest.com (username Fgump910).

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 The Roast of the Silver Surfers

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  1. 38 Responses to “The Roast of the Silver Surfers”

  2. “OK I’m typing in http://www.mywebaddress.com and hitting the search button and I don’t see the website. I keep getting this page with a bunch of random results.”

    By Gerald Weber on Jan 19, 2010

  3. We really shouldn’t write off the older user.

    My great aunt in her late 70’s was proud to sit down and actually show me how to use the internet to research my family history. (I didn’t bother to point out I use the internet every day :) because she was so pleased with herself.

    My mother-in-law also in her 70’s got on the internet when her daughter moved to another country and then joinned facebook to keep in touch with the rest of the family.

    My 80 year old grandmother is just signing up to the internet because she can no longer get out of the house so will be ordering her food shopping on line.

    They just like to take their time learning and doing things properly. Not like us younger generation who have to do everything as quick as possible.

    Its not going to be long before the silver surfer is going to be the norm.

    By Christina on Jan 19, 2010

  4. Check out this 85 year old blogger- OctogenariansBlog.com. Politics, life in the 30s and 40s. Very cool.

    By ken on Jan 19, 2010

  5. My gran’s a keen user of the Internet, which she finds especially useful for keeping in touch with the rest of the family (I have aunt’s and cousins in South America as well as across Europe). Alas, we’ve told her Facebook is really expensive in the hope she stays off it. I feel pretty mean about it but we’ve all agreed that it’s a necessary step!

    By Charlotte Walker on Jan 19, 2010

  6. Disclaimer!!!

    I’d like this to be viewed as tongue-in-cheek. I am not writing off older users entirely, as many are surprisingly savvy. I am just pointing out some generalities I have noticed by interacting with many older internet users and trying to justify that behavior.

    For example, I will share a humorous pet peeve that many of my friends and I have discussed…

    The Uber-Chain-Letter

    Example:

    “Fwd:fwd:Fwd:fwd: CUTEST THING EVER!!!!(att.)”

    I always laugh to myself. These chain emails are the bread and butter of the Silver Surfer generation. This email has made it around the world 25 times before it has reached my lonely inbox. Judging from the 4 “fwd’s” I will have to scroll down through 30k old fart’s email addresses, to the catacombs of this decaying joke before I get to see whatever these people think is so cute.

    BUT WAIT!!!! I have been fooled. I will now have to download the file (you may have noticed there is an attachment). This is another trademark mark of the Silver Surfer. With the advent of YouTube, this sort of thing is inexcusable. You DON’T, I repeat, DON’T, need to download any video files anymore. They will just rot on your desktop.

    There are plenty of other similar behaviors (just think of some internet hoaxes that could have been extinguished by Snopes.com). Just thought I’d get this started.

    By Forrest Whaling on Jan 19, 2010

  7. Ha! I hate the Uber-chain-email too!

    I hate cute kittens, ironic made-up stories that are meant to teach a lesson, and stupid LOLz cats.

    What is sad is that a lot of older folks get sucked into internet scams with out realizing it. “Work from home for Google” comes to mind.

    By Kate Brown on Jan 19, 2010

  8. Why are the Silver Surfer’s such technophobes?

    Part of me thinks that their brains are just conditioned to analog thinking…and then again, I do have older relatives that spend infinitely more time on the internet than even I do.

    Do they accomplish anything though? I mean really, beyond your regular emailing? I think most of the Surfers view the internet as some sort of mysterious time-machine with unlocked potential – one for which only “young people” possess the wherewithall or social techno-savvy to utilize it’s magical transportative capabilities.

    But it’s not all that. So what is that metaphysical flux capacitor? What is it we get that they don’t? I think this “cognitive lock-in” idea might just be it; or at the very least that it’s onto something.

    I mean really, why is it that your typical Surfer might persist in wasting time secretly typing away in his/her dark living room on a Thursday night searching out that old-flame from the 70s to see if his/her hair has changed? Is it because they want to learn about online social networking, or is it really that they care about the old-flame that much?

    Honestly, I don’t know. Then of course, you have the unknowing spouse upstairs reading the latest from Oprah’s book club so they can post some clever little comment in the morning for all their friends to see.

    What frustrates me is the lack of productivity. These people could be earning degrees, uploading art, investing a real interest in something and utilizing the internet for all that it is really capable of – but instead, they’re trying to see if Billy from the football team got fat after his divorce in the 80s.

    Anyway, I dig that the blogger takes a stab at this. It’s an important question, and it’s not gonna go away. Keep it up dog.

    Listen to light.

    By Z. Taylor Bynum iv on Jan 19, 2010

  9. Well I’m the old fart. I would be a “silver surfer” but thanks to Clairol #46 I am brunette! And just posting a blog is a feat for me! And I think those who know me would say that I’m not a stupid person. There really is something to the cognitive lock-in thing. It’s the same reason I can’t text, I need teens to get the DVD going properly and I’m hopeless with all the cords & wires that go with the X-box, Wii, etc. I’m dern near afraid of Best Buy. Things are getting higher tech and smaller. You’re right. We are afraid of the poltergeist hiding behind all the buttons.

    By Cindy Whaling on Jan 19, 2010

  10. I’m with Cindy. I read about all these new technological innovations and I get brain lock. I, do, however love the instant access to information. No longer do we take off to the bookshelf to get the World Book–Google can come to the rescue. Two of my pet peeves: please, please do not send me a chain letter that I am supposed to send to 10 people in the next ten minutes if I want something good to happen for me. Also, please don’t assume that I share the same politics with you, i.e., that George Bush is a dumb ass or Obama is an alien. Oops I almost forgot. I also get annoyed when people send nostalgia quizzes. One is okay; one a week is not. And no I don’t remember who the Blue Tones are. On balance, I’m looking for investers who want to to bring back the one remote t.v.; a kitchen stove that doesn’t require a guidebook; and a simple cell phone. I think there’s a huge market for simplicity in electronics. It’s called a backlash, I think.

    By Judy Rhoden on Jan 19, 2010

  11. ello govner!!!
    cousin sue here from fredneck and yes i am part of the old fart society…but the wat cool part. happy to see what you are doing and proud to be a part of history. keep the “blegs” (haha)coming and i just hope i can keep up with the conversation. xoxo to all!!!

    By sue thomas on Jan 19, 2010

  12. I think you’ve made a bit of an over-generalization here. Many of us over the age of 45 are pretty tech savvy. I have had a PC since 1988, and currently run a tech blog. My 50-year-old best mate is a computer technician – one of the best there is.

    Remember that even though PCs didn’t really become popular with the masses until the introduction of Windows 95, many of us were working away with MS DOS years before that.

    Twice in your piece you’ve called us ‘old farts’, doubtless jokingly, but I find that pretty disrespectful to the older generation. Don’t forget, one day you’ll be over 45 and hoping for some respect from the younger generation.

    By techandlife on Jan 20, 2010

  13. OK Cindy – have to make a dig. You did not “post a blog”, you posted a COMMENT to a blog. Forrest posted the blog. Jeez…. get with the program! No wonder he thinks we’re all “silver surfers”!
    Forrest – Great post!

    By Cathy Spencer on Jan 20, 2010

  14. Some people from the older generation are not able to accept and catch up with all of the new technological advances. However, there are many baby boomers that are tech savvy. Dr. Ralph Wilson of WebMarketingToday.com is a great example of someone with an enormous skill set. He is knowledgeable in the area of SEO, SEM, and social media. There are many baby boomers like Dr. Ralph Wilson that are utilizing the Internet on a regular basis and are experts in the field of Internet marketing.

    By Karl on Jan 20, 2010

  15. For as much as my Dad has used computers over the last 10-12 years since our first NEC, and then subsequent Gateway, Dell, and whatever he has now, Copy + Paste (using those hidden, secretive, obscure key strokes of ctrl + c/v)
    still manages to evade him.

    Also another big thing he can’t manage effectively is maintaining a folder structure and knowing where his pictures from 15 years ago that he uses on J-Date have disappeared to.

    … and I have had to tell him these 2 things more times than I could exaggerate in this comment, and wonders why I get annoyed or don’t want to get up out of my room and explain it again.

    By tweetivism on Jan 20, 2010

  16. I know this is satire, but listen sonny, I was working in command-line UNIX before you were even a twinkle in your daddy’s eye. When I left AT&T I started a business, designing and building networks in health care. Here are some of my observations:

    Some people get it – some never will. Age didn’t seem to make much difference when I was teaching newbies to use Windows.

    The people who seemed to have to most trouble were middle-aged – the older people were less afraid and actually interested.

    As a boomer, I am probably different because I’ve worked in IT all my working life. But the hardest people to teach anything are those who think they already know, old young or somewhere in the middle.

    These days I help people younger than you understand something a little deeper than ‘join, talk crap, quit’ in social networking.

    And now I have to go pee.

    Again.

    By Hal Brown on Jan 20, 2010

  17. Hal,

    I’m with you on the those who don’t know what they don’t know crowd. It spans all generations, of course, but I see more arrogance from my young hires than I ever imagined humanly possible. Thanks for the fun read.

    And Forrest, you may be fearless on all things technology, but I’m seeing a generation of morbidly obese kids who think exercising involves only thumbs, play in the traditional sense is now considered too dangerous and learning can only happen through input from contemporaries (and that makes me very afraid).

    Here’s something to think about as you blast the baby boomer generation – they’re the largest population (at least in the US) and the most prolific buyers. Want to build a successful business that has legs for the longterm? Figure out how to reach these people too.

    And, for what it’s worth, I don’t see “old people” as you term it (I imagine those 45 right now look and feel a lot younger than most of your pals will when they reach age 35) being afraid of technology. I do see a degree of skeptism on leaping into the latest silver bullet proclimation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And, if you want to attract buyers outside of the generation that prescribes to the philosphy that ‘all information should be free’ (presumably you’re selling information as a digital marketing company), you might want to consider the credibility of traditional editorial media vs. a marketing strategy based solely on internet promotion.

    I see Boomers looking at new technology with an open mind. I can’t say the same for many of the younger crowd as it relates to marekting precepts that have endured the test of time and continue to be effective today. Who’s more ignorant?

    By Nanette Levin on Jan 21, 2010

  18. I apologize if I came off as arrogant – it just read better that way. I was not my intention to cause offense.

    I am quite aware that the baby boomers are the largest population at this time. And as a marketer, we want to reach this population. However, I would like to point out that an online marketer is not selling ‘information’. Our profit comes from businesses or corporations that want to see increased leads, search positions, traffic, and basic ROI. We do not get paid by the consumer. Our goal is to attract the attention of targeted demographics –(be it gamer nerds or stay-at-home moms) to our clients’ products. Just thought I’d clarify that point.

    Those looking to capitalize on people who don’t prescribe to the ‘all information should be free’ mentality include publications and digitally distributed entertainment (i.e. the NY Times and the RIAA, respectively). Currently in turmoil, these entities are walking the fine line between a) ticking people off and b) not making the money they deserve (or think they deserve).

    For example, the NY Times is investigating several new profit models that will ultimately charge users to access their site. This will undoubtedly cause uproar, and they are going to lose a large percentage of their subscribers who enjoyed the free service. It is just a fact. But will it be PROFITABLE? We will see – the forecast is unclear. You cannot deny almost all information is indeed free to the crafty surfer. Certain things might not be exactly legal, but as the RIAA has shown (and made fools of themselves in the process IMO) – most people really don’t care. I am not saying it is right, but Napster certainly revolutionized the mindset of digital distribution. Now, with torrents, the legality issues are so convoluted that it is almost futile. Taking down Pirate Bay is not going to stop anything. While iTunes is doing very well with their digital downloads, it is still a fart in the wind by comparison.

    Tangent aside, I still stand strong by my philosophy. Yes, people can cite themselves(as reader of an SEO blog) people who donot fit the bill. However, the evidence of the contrary, in my opinion, is more prevalent. A friend of mine read the article yesterday and shared with me that his father called him a few weeks back to share some exciting news. He had just learned that he no longer had to pay for his email service. I don’t believe I need to elaborate further.

    When I was about 16, I had a gentleman (I’m guessing mid-forties at the time), offer me a large sum of money to put his cd’s on his iPod. He thought it involved some geek-wizardy or something. While I could have taken advantage of his despondence, I decided to take the higher route and teach him how to press “import” and “synch” on iTunes.

    It is this behavior that is entirely unique to older generations, that’s all I’m trying to say :)

    By Forrest Whaling on Jan 22, 2010

  19. Ok, as an old fart I pose this question: what is the point of blogs? I don’t get it.

    Is my advanced age causing me to miss the value of posting my opinion online? I can’t imagine that anyone really gives a rat’s ass. I always thought when “News 2 wants to know what you think!” what they really want is my email address, and for me to feel that somehow I now have a relationship with my BFFs at News 2.

    What am I missing here? Or are you young whippersnappers curing cancer and creating world peace through blogs?

    By Camille on Jan 22, 2010

  20. Interesting story and well written, love your writing style.
    Thanks for sharing.

    By Latief@AnotherBlogger on Jan 23, 2010

  21. Actually Camille, the world’s top modern academic institutions, (including Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Columbia – to name a few) utilize Blog technology on a daily basis to expand, enrich, and expedite several aspects of student, faculty, and resident-professional’s work.

    In point of fact, a friend of mine works for the chemical research division at Duke University. His focus is in evidence-based medicine and epidemiology; so he doesn’t study cancer specifically. But, his laboratory does use a centralized university-based server i.e. a Web Log or Blog – as well as Google Calendars – in logging research, uploading data, coordinating schedules, stretching budgets, and generally coordinating the ideas behind their current project(s). His lab’s most recent research grant was approved stipulating that the lab-administrator use such internet-innovations to coordinate common efforts and not waste man-power.

    Also, if you have any friends, children, relatives, or acquaintances who are involved with institutes of higher education, you may know of something called Blackboard Academic Suite. Blackboard is a closed-source open-architecture course management system that operates like/as a blog. We use it for discussion, to upload course documents, to study, to check our grades, and retrieve course materials, etc. It is used by 3700 education institutions in more than 60 countries – and yeah, it’s a web-log.

    Point in case: not all Blog-content is superficial in nature. In the context of education specifically (to address your quip) the web-log innovation could easily be viewed as a spark-knock in the world of global education…especially laboratory science.

    By Z. Taylor Bynum iv on Jan 23, 2010

  22. I always have to teach my father how to see a page hand by hand. and sometimes he still doesn’t know how to do. It’s nothing. I have enough patience to teach him and I can imagine when I was very young, he also taught me as this.

    By chinese visa application on Jan 25, 2010

  23. That’s great information and Pic is also nice to see with comment, every guy has to do some home work???

    By Crista Mary on Jan 28, 2010

  24. People had been advantage or disadvantage.In early days internet was not valid so parents are been out of the station which can provide them but today it is very easy

    By arnab on Jan 28, 2010

  25. Forrest,

    Thank you for your detailed and cogent response.

    I would caution you not to lose sight of the fact that those businesses and corporations you hail as clients might have some decisions makers in the mix who are past the ripe old age of 30 :-).

    I hear you on the statistics. Still, that secondary research isn’t supporting the primary evidence I’m finding as long time (and apparently geriatric by your perspective at the ripe old age of 45), active and networked business owner. As a marketer who’s been around for a while with small business as my focus, I’ve always put more credence in direct contact with consumers vs. studies produced by others. I recognize most don’t embrace this position, but it’s worked for me.

    Have you considered seeking out some old farts who are making a name for themselves on the technology bleeding edge? You might find a new perspective :-).

    By Nanette Levin on Jan 31, 2010

  26. Very nice posting great knowledge shearing The Roast of the Silver Surfers article is very nice give me platform info thank for nice posting.

    By medical school on Feb 16, 2010

  27. Hey! I’m a silver surfer…. ;) I’m 60 next year and although I have all my hair, am not grey (just a couple showing) and have better than normal health.

    I also operate my own “Mom and Pop” SEO, WordPress and Google adWords business since I started up in San Francisco way back in 97.

    I know of many, many 65 + ‘ers who would blow some kids away with their knowledge.

    I jumped on our local bus the other day (yes I have a bus pass ;) ) and the driver is also a flash programmer so us older folks have more life experience that will serve as a nice part time job (and hobby) when we retire – next year in my case

    Greetings from Jolly Old England

    David Saunders

    By David Saunders on Feb 16, 2010

  28. Interesting comment above :(

    By David Saunders on Feb 25, 2010

  29. LOL I spammed it – sorry :)

    By Ann Smarty on Feb 25, 2010

  30. Wow, thanks for great information. really nice pic.

    By Shalini Gupta on Mar 9, 2010

  31. Wow another rivetting comment ;)

    By David Saunders on Mar 9, 2010

  32. Haha! I know, a lot of thought went into that one. However, if she is talking about my bio pic, then I am very flattered :)

    Oh, BTW, my mom finally joined Facebook! What a pleasure. I am already receiving intelligent questions:

    “OK –
    A couple people from Frederick e-mailed me after I “friended” them. But I don’t know how to reply. I tried hitting reply and I tried going to the link it showed me – but both go to noreply@facebook.com and come back to me through the maeler demon!?”

    Hmmmmmmm…….

    By Forrest Whaling on Mar 9, 2010

  33. Oportunidade única, vendo 2 licenças do tv digital no pc por R$20,00 cada,
    eu adquirir um pacote de canais do tv digital no PC no http://www.tvdigitalnopc.com.br e recebi 4 licenças, eu utilizo somente uma licenças, uma licenças eu já vente para meu primo e estou vendendo as outras 2 quem tiver interesse favor entrar em contato riclife@ig.com.br

    By new on May 19, 2010

  34. Arrrr! Another gem above Ann!

    Here’s a silver surfer unique story!

    I have been practicing SEO since 1997 when I lived in San Francisco and had a small, classy wedding DJ business. I was top on all the right engines of the day – Crikey does anyone remember Northern Light?

    Anyway on moving back to Englans last year I thought I wanted to do something different and knowing what I know about ranking and getting it right – I decided to become the new City of Plymouth Town Crier – which the local powers that be embraced!

    Business has gone nuts and I am everything from a “upscale” sign swinger at £70 an hour to Civic Ceremonies officiant!

    All this from being a silver surfer SEO – I am not silver nor a surfer but am 60 next year

    I won’t leave a tacky link ;)

    Best Ann

    Jack Ringer
    Plymouth, England

    By Jack Ringer on May 19, 2010

  35. In fact I used the wrong dom name extension too ;)

    By Jack Ringer on May 19, 2010

  36. Editing the domain name for you :)

    Thanks a lot for the comment!

    By Ann Smarty on May 19, 2010

  37. There’s another axiom you missed, Forest…

    …”Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

    Oops, think I just violated a copyright! :)

    Heck, when it all becomes intuitive one day, we’ll be surfing on level ground(?!?)

    Dan

    By Dan Reinhold on Sep 21, 2010

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