#COVIDChronicles-194: October 22, 2020-What digital means to older people

I had a column on this topic published in Jamaica Observer’s ‘The Digital Life’, yesterday.

SOMEONE commented on Twitter , recently, that people who take more than 45 seconds at an ATM/ABM should be ‘penalised’. I responded that he had no idea of the issues faced by physically or mentally challenged people, or older people, who cannot do things as fast, because they do not process the information as rapidly. I went to an ABM a few days ago and the lady in front of me was there about five minutes. She was in her 60s/70s. She completed her transactions and took however long it took. The digital age has made many people think in nanoseconds and about speed as if it’s something everyone should crave or be destined for the garbage heap.

I’m a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) and I hear and see many concerns about technology from older people in Jamaica. Though I’m in my mid-60s, I’ve managed to master much new technology at work and leisure; I’m often the one in my household who understands what needs to be fixed, whether it’s an Internet router or microwave thermostat. I’m not a gadget person but I like things to work for my benefit, not for looks.

CCRP’s feedback supports findings that older people face many problems with the digital world; some physical, some mental (processing what needs to be done); some technical. Many people mastered the mouse, then they needed to master touchscreens and swiping, now they need to master voice-activated or facial-activated. All are simple for many, but pose problems for others. Add to that fears about what technology may be doing behind the scenes. One doesn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist, just maybe someone who has had scamming e-mails or worse been the victim of some kind of cyberfraud. The latest Apple operating system for iPhone alerts you when an application is accessing your device’s camera or microphone.

As Forbes has highlighted, recent reports indicate older people are getting used to new technologies but the issue is whether they are able to master it. One finding is that there is little or no input from older adults on their design.

The irony, Forbes noted, is that “most older adults prefer to age in place, and technologies, including Internet of things (IoT), Ambient/Active Assisted Living (AAL) robots and other artificial intelligence (AI), can support independent living.”

While studies have shown that older adults could use well-designed technologies in their daily lives, few developers have addressed user-related issues in their design processes. Researchers concluded that effective technologies are going to be “those that prioritise the needs and wishes of older adults, general acceptance of potential users, and suitable preconditions for its adoption”. These are all difficult goals to achieve “with a top-down design methodology that fails to engage users in the design process”.

Participants in the study reported a lack of understanding of modern technologies and digital platforms as a barrier that kept them from using new technology and made them dependent on others to operate basic features. They said they had purchased services (for example Netflix) they didn’t use, because they couldn’t understand how to operate them. We often hear the story of family gatherings where the seniors love the youngsters coming so that they can use them as tutors for the technology. There’s a great Ally Bank ad that has the grandkids being handed the laptop as soon as they arrive, and being told, “It’s not working.”

We know seniors can manage to send messages on WhatsApp, but may not know how to add pictures, use voice notes, or forward messages or other features. I once knew a lady who told wonderful stories and when I suggested she start to write them on her computer, she admitted she did not know how to start with any of the word processing software. When I explained she could dictate and have her voice converted to text she looked at me with awe.

In Jamaica, we have low trust in institutions, such as banks, but high trust in people, even strangers. A lady once met me at an ABM and asked if I would help her log in to her account and withdraw money. One of my fellow directors, Ambassador Aloun Assamba, CEO of COK Sodality Co-op Credit Union explained that they now have an online platform which makes it much easier for people, especially seniors, to use their banking facilities. “Initially, many are reluctant to try it so people will walk them through it and usually when that is done they are happy. It is the setting up that is the problem. We have found it takes a little patience to work with the seniors but once it is done they are happy,” she said.

We know that memories can fail rapidly after a certain age. One feature of many technologies is passwords, but keeping them safe and remembered is often a challenge. Many people write them in a book, but can they find the book? An acquaintance related how she could not access her investment account because she’d had no reason to log in because it is not her primary bank account. She was locked out of it, then had to call customer service. But, the line is not toll free; she used a lot of credit waiting an excessive amount of time in the queue. Not a big problem to solve, but things conspired to make it hard to solve, and costly.

Older people often demand little more than consideration. When it comes to technology, they’d like a seat at the development and implementation tables. Is that too much to ask?

Dennis Jones is a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP).

Communications in the modern age: You can relax, Grandma!

As we roll out of 2016 into 2017, it’s fitting to think about one of the things that’s changed a lot and will keep changing a lot–communications. 

My mother-in-law is ‘worried’ about her grandchildren, because they ‘don’t communicate’. She sees them huddled over devices like iPads, laptops, smart phones, and says ‘they’re not talking’. Grandma wants to see and hear communications they way she knew them as a girl, if I interpret her concern, correctly. I tried to put the matter differently to her.

She had just gotten off the portable phone with a friend, about an event later today. She’d talked, but had not been face-to-face. Surely, that was different from 60-70 years ago?

She and her children had spent some of the day playing Scrabble, eating conch fritters, and making arrangements for today’s open house. Some of the planning was being done in the kitchen, some on WhatsApp, some over the phones (mobile and land lines). 

The conch fritters had been fried by one of the housekeepers who’d just come back from holiday with her children in Jamaica. We knew about the trip to Kingston and Clarendon because some of it had been reported on Facebook and Instagram. Sadly, when they had spent Christmas in Clarendon, there was no wifi so they weren’t able to call many friends back in Nassau because they could not afford to make the calls, using network lines and data.

I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had spent part of the previous day dealing with some business overseas. I had called a credit card company in the USA on Skype and sorted out something over a 10 minute call. I had done the same with one of the airlines: free calls using their 1-800 numbers. My mobile phone is not connected to the local carrier when I travel–it’s too expensive to make such calls. Finally, I had made hotel arrangements in Jamaica using a combination of Facebook Messenger and email, via which I had received my confirmation rate and dates. The booking was cancelled and changed about five minutes after I got confirmation, but another email explained that the hotel had a big booking coming so needed to switch my rooms. No problem. 

I spent much of the day exchanging Christmas greetings with friends, from the comfort of my mother-in-laws living room: my friend in Vancouver, with whom I went to grammar school, gave me some interesting philophical advice via Facebook Messenger. I gave him it back with a smile, in spades. I ‘heard’ about a year of successful poem writings from an acquaintance in New Zealand, whom I’ve never met in person, but whom I ‘studied’ with during a ‘MOOC’ (massive open online course; a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people) offered by the University of Iowa. The class ranged from India, Israel, USA, New Zealand, and more. She’d posted on Facebook and Twitter her year and news about her 50-plus published poems during the year. 

I also had a short conversation with a young Jamaican entrepreneur, using the phone and video facility of FacebookMessenger. He was playing video games and having lunch at the time, so I kept the chat short. He is a media specialist and talked to me about how to advance my use of video for my commentaries, and I told him about some ideas for graphics I wanted to try in 2017. I’ve ordered items on Amazon and my wife will collect them for me on her next US trip

I had written and posted two blog articles earlier in the day. One, about crime in Jamaica, was generating some reactions and I was exchanging comments about it via Twitter.

My older daughter and I had gone ‘old school’ during the afternoon, on the sofa, yelling at grown men chasing a ball in England on a cold misty night–live from The Bahamas. C’mon, Hull! 

The children descended on the house in the evening, aged from about 9 through 20s. My daughter, who had not called all day, said she had been making ‘goo’ with her cousin. Why did you both have cell phones if you’re going use your hands to make stuff? Go figure! 

I had a problem with my cell phone and their collective brains worked on it, but to no avail. So, I did some checking and rebooting and disconnecting from networks and bravo, ‘Daddy fixed it!’ Yea! I should have shamed them on Facebook 🙂

We ended the evening with another few rounds of Scrabble with my daughters and my wife, and then a crazy game of ‘Go Fish!’. During that, I commented that I thought my teenage daughter communicates too much with her friends, as they have long group chats in the afternoons, after school and sometimes way past her bed time. I have to turn off the light and take away her laptop. I dont know what they find to laugh about and scream so much. I think about eight of them are chatting and video chatting at the same time–from their homes, not in mine. When they come to visit, they create mayhem and mess. This way, I only have my one child’s messy bedroom to deal with. 

My point, without wishing to diss my MIL is that ‘things ain’t what they used to be’. But, I’m not sure that it was all that in the past, either. 

I remember when I was a boy, coming home, and if I was not able to go out and play with friends in the street, being inside on my own, with no one to talk to: we had no phone. In fact, no one in my family had a phone for years. We got television sooner in England than any of my relatives in Jamaica. I watched some childrens’ TV and listened to the radio, and read comics and some books. I did my homework. I spent years working in bureaucracies and now for my own pleasure write an ridiculous amount. Funnily, I just got a message about my Twitter account: my most active audience this week was in Slovenia. I know no Slovenes (including Merlene Ottey, who switched from Jamaica), and have never been there. Interesting!

My dear friend, Jean Lowrie-Chin, wrote earlier today on Twitter how we need to respect Seniors, who nursed the Gen X/Gen Y/Millenials in their embrace of tech, and also endorsed the need to be patient with grandparents. 
Credit to grandma; she’s come a long way. She doesn’t use her laptop much, but is getting better with her cell phone and using Whatsapp–she’s better than the lady we heard about who wanted to pay for her Whatsapp bill and wanted to know why she needed data on her phone when she had Internet at home. I may introduce grandma to video chats, but let’s see. As a bit of fogey, myself, I know that I have to embrace much of the technology around me because I am not into hppfing all over the place to get things done. I like banking from my armchair and see little value in standing in lines in banking halls. I get to see my daughter’s grades and assignments before we talk about them in the car on the way home, and I can send her mother notes from the meetings at school, when she’s off travelling, so that when she talks with Miss Lovely she has another view about how things went down.

I dont think grandma need worry, too much. Now, if she becomes an subject of interest on Snapchat, she may regret ever mentioning communication. Bless her!

When I went to bed, I left grandma and grandpa sitting in front of the TV watching a rather violent film. I’m worried about their eyes. 🙂 The items shipped from Florida made the new house look homely, as did the items delivered by boat from Inagua