Granny loves Facebook. And Skype. And her iPod.

New survey and statistics show older women embracing personal technology.

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By Stephanie N. Mehta, assistant managing editor and Beth Kowitt, reporter

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Patti McConnell is pretty much a typical Facebook user. The Calgary, Alberta, resident has been a member of the social-networking site for more than a year. She says she uses Facebook to stay in touch with friends, check out family members' pictures, and play word games such as Scramble and Twist.

Did we mention that McConnell is 61 years old? "I think it is wonderful," the computer-savvy grandmother says, though she admits she is still getting used to having the ability to peer into other peoplešs personal lives. Says McConnell: "Sometimes you wonder if you're not being nosy."

Forget the stereotypes about senior women fearing technology. McConnell and peers are eagerly embracing Facebook and other high-tech solutions in a big way: According to Inside Facebook, a website devoted to tracking the social network, the fastest growing group of new U.S. users on Facebook are women 55-to-65 years old. That group, the site says, has grown 175% from September 30 to February 1, while American women overall increased about 43%.

Separately, an online site for mature women, recently asked women over the age of 50 to share their technology preferences. Of the 20,000 women who responded to the survey, 63% say they own an iPod or other MP3 player, and 30% of respondents say they use Skype, the voice-over-IP application. Some 28% of the women who responded to the opt-in survey say they use a Flip or other mini camcorder to shoot videos and upload them to the web.

"All of a sudden it seems the world is waking up to what we already know," says Carol Orsborn, a senior strategist for VibrantNation. "Women at midlife and beyond are early adopters [of technology], competitive with their kids, and in many cases, they are beating out their kids."

Stephen Reily, CEO of VibrantNation, says his site's research has found that older women tend to be big users of communications technologies -- services such as Skype and webcams that help them keep in touch with their networks of friends. "They're using technology to enhance the lives they already have, rather than filling the gap with gadgets that are a distraction, the way a teen boy might," says Reily.

The widespread use of tech among older women presents an interesting opportunity to makers and marketers of consumer electronics. Reily cites the example of one senior woman who purchased webcams and Skype services for all of her family members as a way to stay in touch.

Orsborn suggests that gadget-makers would do well to build products and services that appeal to senior women, partly because they are loyal customers but also because their needs aren't that different from the needs of the average consumer. "This is a very discerning and demanding market," she says. "If you hit a homerun with them you're going to hit a homerun with a lot of different markets. They want technology to be easy and intuitive, but that's something everyone wants."  To top of page

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