Joke made a reply earlier today on my previous post, which you can find here. Since I noticed my reply just kept getting longer and longer, I decided to take this opportunity to summarize my previous statement and expand upon it.
Joke stated that there’s a psychological threshold regarding elderly and technology (as I have already delved into here). Furthermore, she continued, it’s important to design technology in such a way that senior citizens have an easier time using the application. To quote a passage:
“Keywords such as security / privacy, social relationships, simplicity.”
While I agree on a certain level, I believe the impact of long term vision can’t be overstated. It’s true that most elderly won’t use technology because they don’t feel the need to or because it just goes way over their head. However, in another 20 – 30 years, the ‘new’ senior citizens will face a completely new set of issues with the modern technology of that time.
Allow me to rephrase by using an example. My grandmother turned 80 a few years back, but she’s still very much up and about. The family decided to give her a mobile phone to allow her to call for help when needed. This phone has the most basic design imaginable: it has twelve buttons (numbers 0 – 10, call and disconnect), the dimensions of a common calculator and a clear black-and-white display. Furthermore, it’s equipped with a big, red ‘panic button’, which allows her to call a previously programmed number. It’s safe to say all of the key features have been met: security (completely fool-proof), simplicity (as hard to use as an ordinary phone) and social interaction. In essence, it seems like a well designed product.
However, for some reason, my grandmother never takes it with her. Now she has an easy to use mobile phone lying at home.
Which brings me back to the general question of my previous post: what if it doesn’t matter?
While simplicity is an admirable goal, I don’t believe it to be the missing link in convincing elderly to make optimal use of the technology available to them. While short term benefits can be reaped, it’s important to keep in mind that only a more generalized vision can dramatically change the ways in which people of a certain age interact with technology as a whole.
If we consider a strictly design-based improvement, there’s a trend that immediately springs to mind: ubiquitous computing.
Ubiquity is defined as:
“Existence or apparent existence everywhere at the same time”
according to Webster and the Free Dictionary. In terms of technology, it’s considered to be the omnipresence of technology, integrated in such a way that the user doesn’t even (consciously) realizes it’s there. Or more formally:
“machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs” (1)
An interesting concept to be sure, that’s already well on its way in gaining popularity. And rightfully so, as it ensures and solidifies the capabilities of the elderly well into the future.
For more information on ubiquitous computing, see reference 2.
(1) J. York, P.C. Pendharkar, “Human–computer interaction issues for mobile computing in a variable work context”, Int. J. Human-Computer Studies 60 (2004) 771–797
(2) Poslad, Stefan (2009), “Ubiquitous Computing Smart Devices, Smart Environments and Smart Interaction”, published by Wiley.