Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Actually, everybody IS doing it: ageism and tech-savviness

I have the luxury of working from home as my schedule allows, or in my case, as has happened with some frequency over the last couple months, working from Starbucks. I see and hear the most interesting things while I'm sipping on my iced decaf Americano with soy milk and researching online communities or piecing together the business case for a particular product direction. Last Friday was no exception.

While I am continually intrigued by the two guys who sit in the corner playing RPGs ALL DAY every day I've been there (seriously, they sit there throwing back iced mocha grandes, sitting across from each other and NEVER talking), there was a particular conversation I had last week that I can't get out of my head.

As I was engrossed in some deep thinking and writing, I felt someone walk up to my chair. It was an older man, probably in his mid- to late- sixties. He was examining my laptop when I looked up. He asked me if it was a MacBook Pro, and I said yes...I'm on my third one and I really love it, except they run hot and if I don't pay attention or use a cooling pad, it will burn my legs. He chuckled,  turned to the even older gentleman sitting at the table next to me, and said, "See! I told you they get hot and we'll have to get you a cooling pad!"

He went on to explain that he was trying to figure out what laptop to get his father. We went on to discuss the pros/cons of getting a MBP versus a MacAir, and I told him the big difference was the internal DVD drive in the MBP, to which he adamantly explained, with hands gesturing to the sky, "Who uses DVDs anymore? Everything is in the cloud!"

We talked for a few more minutes, this man in his 60s, his dad in his 80s, and me, the young whipper-snapper breathing down the neck of 40, about what this octogenarian wanted to do with his new laptop and which type might be better. After determining that the main priorities would be reading news, playing online games and using social sites, I told him that an Air would probably be fine, but he should figure out his graphics and video needs for the games he wanted to play before he made his final decision. They thanked me and off they went, coffees in hand, arguing about when they could make it to the Apple store.

I was reminded of this conversation when I saw a link posted by Dr. Jane Bozarth on Facebook from Pew Internet Research that shows 43% of Internet users over 65 are on social media sites.  And then there's this research report, which shows more than a third of gamers are over 36 years old (also, 45% of gamers are women, but that's for another post). Or this study, another from Pew Internet Research, that shows 45% of people 50-64 and 18% of people over 65 have smartphones.
She's 100. She's a gamer. 

Technology is not simply for the young and the idea that we should be designing for the next gen is overlooking a significant portion of the population that is embracing technology to improve their lives today. I was, but shouldn't have been, surprised by my conversation in Starbucks last week. It was a real-life example of what the research is telling us: everyone is adopting technology and our designs should account for the unique characteristics of different populations, but should not assume that any particular demographic (e.g., gender, age, or shoe size) makes someone more or less likely to be passionate about or eager to learn or use a new technology. Yes, there are resistors, but their resistance is more likely tied to their personality than their age.

Feel free to cite the above research when someone says their employees "aren't technology savvy." :)


  1. "Everyone is adopting technology." I think this is true, but it risks mistaking the action for the accomplishment.

    What I mean is, everyone has things they're interested in and people they're connected to. Most people aren't interested in technology for its own sake (one reason Apple fans receive so much mockery) -- but when they can make the connection between their interests and ways to pursue them, that changes.

    Look at the world of work: the original personal computer users were techies, engineers, electronics hobbyists, and similar outliers. Then Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin released VisiCalc in 1983 (forty years ago), and any business person who wanted to could buy, say, an Apple II or a TRS-80 and use it to pursue things that interested them apart from the technology.

    Which explains why my mom, who'll be 95 in a month, has a Facebook profile. No, she doesn't post much, but her grandchildren and nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews et cetera do, and she now has one more channel to do what she wants to do.

    1. I think that's EXACTLY right, Dave. It's not adopting technology for technology's sake, but as a means to doing the things you're interested in - and it's silly to think that only younger generations are social or playful or curious or want to be entertained.

  2. I just have to smile whenever I see or hear some cheap shot about computer use among people my age. Or those the age of our proofreader, who is 80 and writes CompTIA A+ certification books.

    Bill Brandon, Editor, Learning Solutions Magazine

    1. I'd like to say you break the mold, Bill (you do), but clearly you're just a trendsetter :)