This is a follow-up to the last blog – “Repetitive News Headlines” and picks up on the theme of how the introduction of new technology is moving faster than older people’s’ ability to keep up. (Click in the TAG CLOUD on “Same Old Same Old” for other posts on the theme).
The first three of my recent headlines are early signs how older people can be disempowered and marginalised.
The ending of cash payments on buses in London may only seem like a small step, one in which will be easily understood by most Londoners and certainly by London pensioners who all travel for free with concessionary tickets. But what if the concession is withdrawn as the austerity belt tightens in the future? Then all older people will need to figure out what an “oyster card” is and learn to jump on buses quickly :-(.
The second step towards disempowering older people is the move to digitize Government services by making them a predominantly on-line service. Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, tells us “it will be good for us and that everything can be delivered on time.” Conveniently overlooking the fact that more than 5 million pensioners have never been on-line. I doubt these arrogant age-unfriendly politicians will dare introduce exclusive on-line voting, in case they lose the grey vote.
The third headline compared the different levels of use of new technology between age groups. A study by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, unsurprisingly found that teenagers are the most confident group with technology. Many youngsters have never known a world without Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, whilst at the same time many older people still are not using emails and social media.
There is a communication divide opening up between the young and the old, not just the technology but a language barrier of tweets, blogs, instagrams, texts and even Oyster Cards. Only one-third of people over 55 own a tablet. Less than 15% of over 65’s own a Smart Phone, whereas almost 90% of 16 – 24 year olds do.
These observations are not a rant against technology, just a plea for a more inclusive transition. It is not older people who have to get to grips with technology, it’s technology that has to adjust to the needs of older people! Many older people struggle with the pace of change and resign themselves to being left behind. Those with mental frailty, such as Alzheimer’s or with visual or hearing impairment, have major problems comprehending new technology. However, the technology has the potential to hugely enrich their lives and assist with their frailty.
The new technologies need to embrace and adapt to older people, not exclude them. Technology companies should look at things through the eyes of older people when designing new products for them. The first TVs just had an “on, off” button with sound and brightness controls. They were no more complex than that. There weren’t even extra channels to contend with. We need to get back to that level of simplicity for many of the older, elderly generation. Touchscreen technology may be a step in the right direction but the limited dexterity of older hands doesn’t always find this easy. Voice activated computers are maybe the next step, but making that first step needs a guiding hand. If we can once start people on the journey, there is a whole new world in front of them to explore from their living room.