Is Technology Going to Age with Us? Mar 16, 2017

An old rotary phone, touch button phone, and early model cell phone

How long have you been using technology? Has it been a few years, a decade, maybe even half of your life? Or have you been using computers and smartphones for so long that you can’t really remember life without these tech gadgets?

No matter how long you have been using these devices, you have probably incorporated them into your life pretty seamlessly by this point. Technology has crept into nearly every corner of modern life. Bosses expect you to be keeping up with conversations on email and chat apps, your social life is planned and documented on a variety of platforms, even dating has become a digital activity. Recently, an artist did a very compelling photo series that removed all of the digital devices from scenes to show just how engaged we are with our smartphones.

But what happens when your physical capabilities no longer match the tech that you rely on so heavily? That is a problem more and more people are facing these days, and it’s a pretty tough thing to solve. While technology is often thought of as a modern convenience, it can honestly be pretty inconvenient at times. This is especially true as you get older. Trust me, with my visual impairment I have eyesight that is worse than most elderly people. Trying to read a phone number on a tiny smartphone screen is nearly impossible. I try to expand the screen but it frequently distorts the page and then I need to search for the text again. In short: it can be a bit of a nightmare.

Will Technology Keep Pace?

The answer to this is frustratingly noncommittal, and for that I am sorry. Some technology will keep pace with our evolving needs, while other types just won’t. It really depends on the people who are developing the tech and what experiences they have had in life. For example, if the person creating the technology has an elderly grandparent that they interact with using messenger apps, then they might consider age and health limitations when developing an online messaging system. But if the person or team that is working on some new tech hasn’t been confronted with those issues, then they might be less sensitive toward them. This isn’t always true, and some tech innovators seek out their own knowledge gaps and address them. But in many situations, unless they are confronted with a problem it can easily get overlooked.

A lot of technology is designed for the average user, and the average user typically does not have special considerations. If they like the app or device and it works well, then it is pretty much considered a success. This leaves out whole segments of the population who need help to use technology now or will need help to continue using it in the future.

We Need to Address This Issue Early On

Even though it might be tough (or even a little disheartening) to imagine what complications you might encounter as you age, it can be extremely important. The problem of whether or not our technology will grow with us needs to be considered. Many of the early pioneers of modern tech have started to age, and we have even lost giants like Steve Jobs. While technology is often thought of as something exclusively created by and for the younger generation, this thinking is outdated.

Most people just take for granted that they will always be able to use the latest technology. But have you ever gotten a hand cramp from holding your phone for too long? Imagine if that cramp was permanent, and every time you went to pick up your phone you felt pain and could not grip it for an extended period of time. Well, unfortunately as we age problems like that become a fact of life for many. Complications like arthritis make tasks that were once simple tough to accomplish.

If we don’t think about these potential complications, then we will be limiting ourselves in the future. Technology needs to be put on a solid course toward being adaptable and inclusive. Otherwise, we will be phasing ourselves of the very products we are working so hard to create and innovate. Ignoring these issues means that we will be sending the wrong message, instead the current generation of innovators needs to set a precedent for creating technology that is adaptable. This can be tricky, and takes a bit of planning. Building in inclusive features from the outset is much easier than going back and inserting them later on in the design and production process.

How Can We Make Tech Age Gracefully?

To ensure that our tech grows with us, we need to take a look at the current elderly users.

These are the people who are currently using technology and hitting age-related roadblocks that we can learn from and help prevent in the future. These users might find the devices they interact with are no longer so simple to use for some pretty common reasons.

For one thing, visual problems can be extremely difficult for people to overcome as they interact with technology. As most people age, their vision will decline. For some it is just a minor complication while for others it is more significant. Whichever category a person falls into; they might need glasses or other vision aids to see a digital screen. This can create issues reading small font or even discerning words on a page if the color contrast is too low or high. The once simple act of reading a device screen can suddenly be a huge issue. The user should not have to remove their glasses or constantly reposition the phone screen in order to see a website.

Another common issue is physical limitations that come with age. We typically think of elderly people needing walking assistance, but often ignore how much stress is also put on their fine motor skills. Like in the arthritis example above, a lot of people encounter these dexterity issues when they age. Some of these problems are severe, while others are simply mild annoyances. Either way, digital devices often require a great deal of dexterity. Things like scrolling on a touchscreen phone or using a trackpad can be extremely difficult for many people.

While these are only two considerations, they are emblematic of a larger overall problem. As we age, our technology needs to support interaction without preventing us from getting the most out of the devices, webpages, and platforms that we love. One great way to help make sure that you help people out is by installing the UserWay widget. It takes care of fixing problems like fonts that are too small or color contrast that makes reading text impossible. It also allows for optimized keyboard navigation making the issues that come with dexterity less of a roadblock. Not to mention the widget is totally free and doesn’t impact a sites’ code. We all need to band together and figure out how to make technology more inclusive, otherwise we run the risk of locking ourselves out of our own favorite gadgets.

Which features do you think are most important to elderly users? Are there any tips or suggestions that you have for current tech developers to make the products and pages they build more adaptable to our aging population? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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