Computers, Picture Printing, and Sharing
Whether they can work their way around the buttons and knobs of a digital camera or not, even those seniors who are devoted to film are using the computer and the internet to view, share, and print their photos. "They're also more careful about storage of their images, more careful with backup [CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives], more likely to print enlargements, and more likely to print at home," says NPD's Cutting.
Overall familiarity with the computer is a huge step in the right digital direction. Depending on their comfort level, some seniors have been using computers from the get-go. "My first computer was in 1985—it ran on DOS and had a beautiful monotone display and a giant 10MB hard drive that would never run out of space," she laughs.
Today Denise considers herself an advanced casual computer user, able to email pictures and download attachments (usually images sent of her grandson and granddaughter), though she still occasionally has to call her son for help with obscure problems. "I also use the computer for research, comparison shopping, and checking news and weather," she adds. "Right now I'm in the process of downloading and editing my camcorder videos and putting them on DVDs. When I'm doing consulting work, I use the computer to design printed circuitboards for satellite communications equipment and then write and compile the software to control that equipment."
Ruth, on the other hand, was a late computer adopter, buying her first unit in 2001. "My extended family helped me set it up," she says. "My grandson and son even set me up with an AIM account, which I have since lost and forgotten how to use. My daughter writes stuff down for me, but if I don't do it often enough, I forget."
Ruth and her husband, Ron, sold their house in New York more than 20 years ago and decided to travel around the country in their mobile home (they've subsequently sold the RV and bought a new house in Florida), so a few years ago, they had a satellite dish installed on the RV's roof so they could have internet access wherever they may be in their travels around the country. "We called it ‘the monster,'" she laughs. "While we were traveling, the internet was useful to find local restaurants and stores in the area. I would find maps and print them up. Now that we're back to living in a house full-time, I use the internet to find local stores, go onto local newspaper sites for news and the obituaries, and to find recipes."
Ruth also uses the internet to receive emailed pictures of her great-grandchildren, and she's usually pretty adept at downloading the attachments. "The other day, however, my daughter sent me black-and-white photos of my great-granddaughter, but they were so big I could only get half the baby's face on my screen," she says. "I didn't know how to make them small, so I called my son, forwarded the images to him, and within a couple of minutes they were back, each one as a separate attachment."
In terms of printing images, Ruth prefers sticking with her home printer. "I wouldn't know how to go to one of those kiosks to print them up, or how to use one of those online photo services," she explains. "I will take my pictures to Ritz Camera, though, so they can stitch my panoramic shots together and match up the colors of the sky."
Denise is a little more comfortable venturing beyond her home printer, though it's usually to well-known drugstore chains rather than the photo specialty retailer. "If I don't have access to a computer and want my pictures immediately, I'll go to CVS with the Memory Stick, but I don't do this often," she says. "Normally I'll upload them to the Walgreens photo center online, and usually within an hour I'll get an email saying the pictures are ready. I like Walgreens because they are cheap and close (I could walk if I wanted to), and they do a good job. Sites like Snapfish are fine, but those are often dependent on the mail, and I like instant gratification. [Editor's note: Many of the online photo services are now teaming up with retail outlets so consumers can upload and pick up their prints at a nearby store.] We have a photo-quality printer at home, but if you factor in the cost of high-quality paper and color ink, it's cheaper to go to Walgreens." Denise also saves her pictures onto a CD using whatever software she has at the moment on her computer.
So while you may not find those born before 1952 scooping up all of the latest consumer electronics phenomena ("I don't know why people would want these new $600 phones, like the iPhone—it's just easier to pick up a phone and call somebody than to go through all that other stuff" says Ruth), retailers should pay close attention to the older set, which is increasingly embracing the digital realm for their picture-taking and—sharing needs.
"I am not afraid of technology—I don't know what there is to be fearful about," says Denise. "Well, actually, yes I do. I fear investing a lot of money in the newest state-of-the-art technology, only to have it become obsolete in a short period of time. I'd like to replace my digital camera with a newer model with better resolution, but I know something even better is really just around the corner."