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A Call For Friendlier Technology

At the very beginning of the digital age, when we traded our simple TV on/off switches for a remote with over two dozen arrows and buttons, we left "easy" and "accessible" behind. Amazing devices created a world suddenly so complex that ill or aging parents and loved ones could no longer manage life without an advocate while we ourselves became more reliant on Millennials to navigate the marvels. Today brick and mortar services are crumbling into a pile of passwords and pins that unlock virtual commerce and there seems to be no end in sight to the discoveries that unintentionally leave those who are less tech savvy behind. Before we find generations lost in a digital world I call for more user friendly, age friendly, accessible design. With intentionality everyone can enjoy the potential of this promising century.

 

Let's start by talking financial technology (finTech). Have you tried to deposit cash into your parent or child's account lately? If so, you know that yesterday's common banking practice is fraught with today's policy limitations. That can be frustrating but hold on reader-- Fintech will create even greater changes to local banking in the near future as you'll learn in the video above. Already almost anything can be done today on a mobile device yet most people over 50 aren't taking advantage of that option. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts research 76% of mobile payments are conducted by Gen X or Millennials. Those generations are prepared for the revolution in banking. Are you? The fantastic financial future needs to include innovations to accommodate the aging population; you and me. Can't we develop elder friendly banking programs and offer education to customers who don't understand or are skeptical about the security of new banking platforms? I know we can if we generate customer feedback directing the development of programs like these. Won't you join me in talking to your local banker about services you may need in the future?

Communication devices are another tech realm that needs innovation to improve inclusiveness and accessibility to help us stay connected as we age.  I don't mean connected in the sense of getting wired into the cloud through our health care devices as comsoc.org predicts in this year's top ten communication trends. I mean connected with family and society in the digital age. Echo and other existing technology hold potential for assisting people with dementia or disabilities to maintain independence and many communities have programs to help with digital literacy. Yet, as award winning professor Anne Marie Piper explains to a group of young designers in a video on youtube, the most challenging audience to include in new technology and social media are older adults. She adds that current design trends of developing mainly health care and monitoring systems targeted at boomers is easy because those products solve specific problems but "it puts aging in a fairly negative light" and "isn't the whole story." She advocates using "design to challenge these dominant narratives on aging." Ironically, the Silent generation may end up being the first to be monitored with advanced technology and wired with healthcare sensors while also being technologically unempowered. Boomers, we need to bend technology to our own use. Speak up. Ask your communication providers to use their creativity and resources to keep you included and supported in the digital age.

Cars, appliances...so many new products offer advanced functions easily understood with a 20 page manual.  How about all those locking devices like your phone, car, bluetooth or computer? They're handy until you forget your password or pin. Have you purchased a digital camera lately? If so you know that the simplicity of point and shoot went obsolete years ago. This isn't an anti technology rant it's a call for user friendly, age friendly, elegant designs that hold relevance and value for all consumers. It's a shout out to designers to leverage today's tech marvels to include the needs of aging friends and loved ones.

The older we get the more it may feel like we're lost in the digital world. Don't ever get lost, readers, get loud. We represent a block of consumers that move markets. Speak up. Tell companies and designers what you need. Ask for accessibility and simplicity in your products. Todays amazing devices may entice but in the tomorrow of our years simplicity will offer the most value.

 

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