Welcome to My World…

…Where We All Live.

In my world, not a day goes by without a flood of information relating to technology, or aging, or the intersection of the two.

Here in Silicon Valley, one can easily be persuaded that the planet revolves around Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube.  The technology pieces are usually positive (except for the incessant lawsuits), along the lines of smaller, faster, less expensive, more powerful developments being more available to more of us.  Or they carry summaries of surveys or research indicating the effect all this technology has on our brains, social skills, work habits, or politics.

Aging-related news is, overall, generally less positive:  the aging of the global population, potential Medicare/Social Security crises, people having to work well beyond their expected retirement age), health (Alzheimers, diabetes, heart, obesity), or societel changes (the sandwich generation, grandparents raising grandchildren, aging in place or alternative living arrangements).   At a recent aging-related conference, a recurring recommendation was to regard these issues as “challenges,” rather than as “problems.”  Yes, but…

In my world, I have a 93-year old mother who can no longer remember how to do basic functions on her computer, despite having used one for 20 years; who has trouble seeing well enough to read, even with glasses;  and who is seriously hearing-impaired, even with hearing aids. Every one of my peers has a story about their own parents, worrying about them, trying to take care of them locally or remotely.   Yet older adults want to avoid “becoming a burden;” they want to stay as independent as possible, for as long as possible.

At least in my world, there appears to be no time-proven method for dealing gracefully and painlessly with someone’s aging (or, for that matter, with your own).  Seemingly alone and without support or precedent, we all face similar issues.  But maybe here is where technology can provide solutions to some of those challenges we will all eventually face.  Here is where technology meets aging.

In my world, I tutor computer classes at a senior center, a retirement community, and a senior “village.”  And in every class, I see students struggle to figure out how to get online, nagivate their tablet computers, make video calls with their friends and family, surf the internet, master a smartphone.  They practically cheer when I tell them that my consulting business, Wiser Usability, focuses on ways to make technology easier for older people to use.  Everyone agrees this would be a wonderful thing, and they ask me when I’m going to make it happen.  I would love to do just that: Make It Happen.

A sample of the challenges I regularly contemplate:

Digital Exclusion, Digital Divide: Many devices and interfaces are not designed with the needs of specific populations in mind (older adults, low vision, low literacy, second language learners, motor-impaired); these populations are digitally excluded, or at best, marginalized.

  • not everyone has access to, or can afford, broadband
  • not everyone can afford appropriate technology devices
  • not everyone knows how to use these devices, or can get technical support

Digital Exclusion hurts those who could benefit the most, by preventing them from doing things the rest of the digital world takes for granted:

  • creating social community
  • researching health information, staying abreast of global developments, intellectual stimulation, lifelong learning
  • online shopping, travel planning, financial management, leisure activities (digital music, movies)
  • creating and maintaining family ties, social community, intergenerational relationships

How in the world can these challenges be overcome?  Believe me, there are people walking among us who are working on solutions: accessibility experts, usability specialists, graphics designers, computer scientists; gerontologists, psychologists, physicians, social workers, sociologists; and not a few marketing and business types.

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