The world has changed, and it isn’t going to stop. Technology has become and is continuing to be a vital and necessary part of our world. Almost everything we have and everything we do has some sort of technology attached to it and we seem to be living much fuller and perhaps optimised lives. But, with social technology only really coming about since the dawn of the internet. Where does this leave the generations who were born with a rattle in their hand instead of a 32GB, 4rd generation, retina display iPod touch?
Something makes me think that the gaps between generations are getting bigger. I can remember visiting my grandparents not too long ago. As usual she was sitting on the same chair she has had since before I was born. I was on the other side of the room on my iPhone talking to 5 different people at the same time. When she looked up to me and said, “Get off that thing, your generation never talk to people anymore!” to which I replied “I am talking to 5 different people at the same time”, “that doesn’t count” she said. Maybe she had a point! That I was being rude by not talking to her, the person in the room. However, it was her belief that my generation talks less than hers that surprised me. To her, a phone is for contacting one person at a time through speech. To me, it is for keeping up with my social life, communication to multiple people through voice, text and video chat. No wonder we both have different views on the social role of technology.
Now I realise I must not generalise. I’m not saying that there are not tech savvy old folk! I’m just saying that on average, elderly people know more about knitting than the ins and outs of TVs and computers. The rise of the “silver surfers” proves that there are an increasing number of elderly people willing to embrace the new generations most popular habit, the ‘web’. In an article about the NHS becoming more online based, BBC news reports “We have an increasingly web-savvy ageing population who use the health service regularly and have a strong interest in seeing it improve.” (BBC Editorial, 2012). Although there are these precious few exploring the internet, these people are still a very small part of the growing elderly generation. But why?
I was born in to the generation where computers were becoming mainstream. I still remember the noise of dial-up internet when I was 8 years old and being totally fascinated with it. My Granny’s reaction was fear; she thought she had “broken it”. I suppose it’s because my generation shaped what we know as modern technology, and todays generation have been born into a world where it is difficult for them to socialize without a computer. A study by the National Literacy Trust says “Children ‘more likely to own a mobile phone than a book’” (Paton, G. 2010). Is this a sign of things to come? I didn’t own a mobile phone until I was going into high school. Are children going to be born owning a mobile phone, playing Angry Birds instead of going out and running about like crazy for hours on end?
Perhaps it’s not the technology that is causing this social divide but more the way in which it is introduced to the public. Maybe it’s the marketing man that is responsible for elderly people being afraid of computers. One such example where a product has successfully been introduced into multiple generations is the Nintendo Wii. In the games console market there is a fierce battle between who will sell the most units, games and make the most money. Traditionally video games have been marketed toward young males with games that include high graphics, violence, guns and action. Nintendo decided to take a different approach with their “Touch! Generations” concept focusing more on family oriented game play using intuitive motion controls, simple clean interfaces and less about the graphics. This meant that it had a lower price than the competition and looked “friendlier”. Their plan worked perfectly and something happened that had never happened before. They “touched” more generations. Nintendo Wii’s were introduced into old folks homes to encourage the residents to get up off their chairs and play virtual bowling and tennis. The reason why this worked was that there were very little buttons to push and actions involved more intuitive movements e.g. a swing of the arm rolled a bowling ball or swung a tennis racket. An article from DailyTech announces “Nintendo console has officially gone geriatric“ (Yam, M. 2007). The article interviewed residents and got the response, “I’ve never been into video games, but this is addictive,” said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach. “They come in after dinner and play. Sometimes, on Saturday afternoons, their grandkids come play with them … a lot of grandparents are being taught by their grandkids. But, now, some grandparents are instead teaching their grandkids.”(Yam, M. 2007). This shows that technology can bridge the gap between generations, it can have a social role in helping us talk to people of all ages. Something that, without these carefully marketed products, would not have happened.
So with the proven potential that technology can have a socially positive role in the world, where does this leave us now? Is it responsible for websites such as Facebook to encourage young people to join them and use their network as a communication tool whilst forgetting about older more difficult to reach generations? My Granny recently bought my old iPhone and slowly has been texting me more and more due to the more traditional keyboard being similar to her typewriter. As a result I now communicate with her much more than I used to. Does this not show that given the chance elderly people will try to embrace new technology? If this is the case then do technology and developers of technology not have a social role and obligation to keep the gap between generations at a minimum? Is it not possible that in the future you could see grandparents and grandchildren alike enjoying new and exciting technology, on the same road, experiencing the same journey? The future is digital, and it is for us all!
BBC Editorial. (2012). ‘Silver surfers’ should be listened to. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17056861. Last accessed 21 Apr 2013.
Paton, G. (2010). Children ‘more likely to own a mobile phone than a book’. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7763811/Children-more-likely-to-own-a-mobile-phone-than-a-book.html. Last accessed 21 Apr 2013.
Yam, M. (2007). Children ‘more likely to own a mobile phone than a book’. Available: http://www.dailytech.com/Wii+Invades+Retirement+Home/article6191.htm. Last accessed 21 Apr 2013.