The Age of Technology

It’s easy to see how seniors struggle to “keep up” with technology.  It’s not that they are necessarily falling behind; developers really just never gave them a chance to catch up. Today’s websites have so many moving components, clickable icons and partner applications that it can be difficult for older users to find what they are looking for or what they actually need.  

A study in 2016 compared the demands of Millennials to Baby Boomers asking what they could not live without. The Millennials chose Electricity (66%), Internet (56%), and Wi-Fi (44%), while Baby Boomers also chose Electricity (71%), Internet (44%), and… Plumbing (40%). Boomers also cared less about the newest technology, would spend less on internet and would rather give up their smart phone than their cable TV (opposite choice of what Millennials said).  

(Writer’s note: I remember when our family collectively gave my grandfather a computer in the late 90’s. He used it solely to play solitaire. It’s not that seniors won’t use technology, they just need to justify the functionality and purpose of it.) 

Gerontechnology is an interdisciplinary study combining gerontology and technology.  One Gerontechnology study followed a group of seniors (ages 63 – 88) for two years, giving them different forms of information and communication technologies. What they found is that the participants noted an obvious “digital divide”, reasons ranging from their own cognitive ability (from aging) to negative attitudes toward technologies in general. The study also found that participants used technology to try to “fit in” with society and their fellow tech-savvy peers. The most troubling trend from these studies - that seniors feel out of touch with those who are “connected”.

Some innovative groups have made efforts to close this gap. OATS (Older Adult Technology Services), a nonprofit based in New York, has developed programs to help elders understand the complexities of computer systems and simplify the “basics” such as their email, medical profiles and social media applications.  OATS refers to itself as a “social impact organization” not necessarily a technology company.  SF Connected is a similar program provided by the city of San Francisco to ensure that the older population learns to incorporate technology into their daily lives. Dozens of computer centers allow seniors to “overcome social isolation, access resources for healthy aging, slow the progress of cognitive impairment, and learn skills to manage personal finances or even increase income.” 

These types of movements will hopefully inspire other communities to do the same and educate our aging population about the benefits of technology.  Albert Einstein might have been ahead of his time when he said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” 

Well Albert, we are continuing to learn more and more everyday!

Published on August 2, 2016.