“Many people will have older relatives who can never been reached by mobile because they insist on turning their phone off every time they have used it.”
This sentence struck a chord when I read it this morning in Jane Wakefield’s BBC article on phone technologies aimed at the older generation. When I took my father to task once over having his phone switched off his reply was “well I wasn’t expecting you to call” – but would he treat his home phone in the same way? No, and for the simple reason that he’s grown up with a landline, but a mobile phone is a new beast.
This article isn’t about my father’s idiosyncratic relationship with technology (therein lies a book, no mere article), but about the very real issue of the older generation’s access to technologies that most of us take for granted. I came up against another example of it when trying to confirm a booking at a venue where the office is manned by retired volunteers – just before I finally burst into tears of frustration, the charming but vague lady on the phone gave me the number of someone “who’s dealing with these things”. Bingo, all sorted inside five minutes. Can you imagine how the fur would fly if that group was asked to start using an online booking system instead? Let’s not forget that Cameron’s Big Society will be run by those who have the time to do it, which tends to be the retired and therefore the older generation.
The older generation’s eccentric ideas about new technology is not a criticism of the over-60s, more of the concept that complicated and feature overladen = modern and cool. It ain’t necessarily so. As the article points out, 50% of children born today will live to be 100, so the older generation needs to be provided with technology that meets its needs, not that confounds and obstructs and makes it feel silly. This is yet another example where one size doesn’t fit all.
Internet access will revolutionise old age, but those of us in the industry must remember that we should be working with that generation, not telling it how things will be. We think we’re so clever with the world at our fingertips, but if we exclude an entire generation because we can’t or won’t design phones and computers perfecty suited to its needs, who looks silly then?