2 in 5 American adults age 50 or over are comfortable using the Internet. 3 in 5 over-50 Americans who go online do so from a desktop computer, and 25% use a laptop.

Over 1 in 3 people 50+ online use social media websites, most notably Facebook (31%). These people connect to their kids, their grandkids, and other members of their extended family.

Social Media and Technology Use Among Adults 50+ is a report from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) that details older Americans’ use of technology, the Internet and social networks.

Desktops are the most prominent form of device for accessing the Internet, used by 57% of adults 50+. Laptops are used by 26% of older Americans. Only 4% use a mobile phone, smartphone, or iPhone to access the Internet — a much lower rate than younger people who have adopted the mobile Internet in larger numbers over the past couple of years as the Pew Internet & American Life Project tells us.

Importantly, 55% of older Hispanics do not access the Internet at all compared to 27% of older adults overall. But among Internet users who use social media, a roughly equivalent number of older adults overall and Hispanic older adults, 30-31%, use Facebook.

The iPad has gained recognition among older Americans, 83% of whom overall “have heard of” the device (vs. 59% of 50+ Hispanic adults). Only 2% of adults own an iPad, but 11% plan or want to purchase one (among Hispanics, 19% plan to buy one). The most important applications to 50+ adults looking to purchase an iPad are general web browsing (77%), reading news (74%), photo sharing (67%), reading books (66%), and watching movies or TV (42%). With the exception of general web browsing, each of these application areas is higher among Hispanic adults interested in owning an iPad.

Older Americans tend to be more avid consumers of “the news” than younger people. The survey asked 50+ adults about how they prefer to get their news and information: 40% prefer to get news by reading newspapers and magazines in print, 10% prefer to read these media online, and 26% prefer to do both.

Among the 50+ adults who get news online overall, 33% go to cable news station websites, along with newspaper and magazine websites. Other sources such as Yahoo! and blogs get fewer than 7% of 50+ adult online news consumers.

Methodology: GfK conducted the survey on behalf of the AARP as part of GfK’s OmniTel surveys. The poll was conducted via telephone in May 2010 among a representative sample of 1,360 adults age 50 or older and an additional sample of 503 Hispanic adults age to or older.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:   One of my favorite moments of the past decade was spending time with my father, one of the Greatest Generation, at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. As soon as he arrived at the expansive arena, he shook hands with countless Men Like Him, sharing stories, shaking hands, and shedding tears with fellow veterans who fought with him in the Pacific theatre. The WWII Memorial was, for him for one moment, a powerful offline social network.

Facebook is becoming that for a growing legion of older Americans who are embracing the online world. While it’s familial connections that are driving the initial adoption of online social networks, older people are getting comfortable learning, using and trusting the Online Commons.

The iPad may be an even more useful platform for apps targeted to older people than mobile phones given their form factor and screen size — perhaps more useable for aging eyes. That 1 in ten Americans 50+ are keen to purchase an iPad in a matter of months since the device’s launch speaks to the fact that you can market new devices to older people. I can just imagine Dad, a Kennedy Democrat and one of the biggest news-consumers of his Great Generation, yelling at Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck into his iPad!