Maybe certain tech for the elderly doesn't make sense.
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Let's ask a journalist -- why don't older adults buy cool tech?
Submitted by Laurie Orlov on Mon, 03/14/2011 - 13:17
Do condescending headlines make readers loyal? Rant on. It's just a bit ironic, don't you think, within a single week to see both CNN Money (States Kick Grandma to the Curb) and Smart Money (Now in Vogue: Grandpa's Gadgets) join last year's New York Times' Helping Grandpa Get his Tech On headline? And let's not forget the Wall Street Journal's It's a Bummer to Be a Boomer. I wonder if these headline writers go to conferences to learn how to sneer? Try substituting a few other demographic categories of your choosing in each of these phrases and see how they sound. The mindlessness of so-called journalism is a distraction -- and no doubt deflects venture capitalist attention from what could be a remarkable opportunity if only it received clear-headed attention from journalists, investment analysts, advertisers and all of the other folk who help shape market interest. One of the dilemmas about this lack of interest is that the very products that get journalists all excited (like the non-stop drooling about the iPad) can be turnoffs for a variety of reasons that could include price, form factor, weight, functionality -- who knows? No one has bothered to survey why older adults aren't lined up outside the store. Probably because they didn't see themselves among the iPad's young, ad-click happy males -- even though the product might be useful to them as a primary computing device?
A simple example -- please ask why won't older adults buy smartphones? These devices are remarkably useful and yet only 1% of the 65+ own one, according to Nielsen Wire. Take my Droid (and with some of its 'features,' that might better be phrased as 'Please, please, please take it.') On the plus side, it offers turn-by-turn voice navigation, so fast and so up-to-date with great maps of nearly-new streets. I can speak a query into its voice search engine and reply by voice to an e-mail. I can view all websites I've tried to look at and can update my own. I can lightly tap a menu option, expand the text with a pinch....doesn't it sound just perfect for older adults? Oh, and did I mention that the menus are deeply nested and bafflingly inconsistent, that the microphone icon for the voice-activation is tiny, that the keyboard layout between soft and hard keys is inconsistent, and the overly sensitive screen touch can't be adjusted? That the on-off button requires some muscle, that it powers up more slowly than anyone else's device on an airplane; and that if you drop it into your purse, hopefully you won't inadvertently start a chat session or re-dial a recent call? Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, it's just great!
So here are some articles I would like to read in the WSJ, CNN Money, SmartMoney, and the NY Times. Okay, let's close the journalistic gap on tech -- here are some questions and topics that would inform investors and venture capitalists (so young and male) and even provide advertising opportunities for newspapers -- a medium that is dying daily. Rather than fawning over Silicon Valley T-shirted programmers, let's see an article interviewing tech product developers to find out what they know (or don't know) about older adults -- who make up the newspaper audience and -- who knew -- a growing percentage of the Facebook fans. Let's read an article that spells out the ten most useful apps for a 50+ population that are NOT in the market today. Instead of sneering at Grandpa and Grandma, let's see a headline that shouts about tech investors and vendors who are breaking away from 'me-too' social networking websites, maybe even targeting the well-heeled 50-60 age range with tech products that could really make a difference in caring about their 70-80-year old long-distance parents.
Let's read about unspent venture capital -- why not pour more into tech for home care? Wouldn't it be good to know what investors know about the growing home care market? And what do they know about any aspect of the older population, whether its family caregiving, senior housing, or technology gaps that need to be filled? For example, let's read more about in-home care and why more tech isn't used to monitor workers or help with medication dispensing -- where mistakes can be made. Let's see journalists find surveys that compare discounts in data plans so that webcams might be more easily distributed and adopted or training of workers improved? The sad thing -- everyone knows a parent, a grandparent, or a friend who is or about to become older or (really!) old. Why, even venture capitalists and Silicon Valley programmers will eventually grow old. So journalists, please help the marketplace help you, me, and everybody else find the tech they need, not just those gadgets that are trendy. Rant off.