Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Social security – no more paper checks – unless. So on March 1, 2013, all social security checks are to be direct deposited to a bank account or to a debit card. That is, all except for those aged 90 and older who qualify for a hardship waiver. Says Treasury about waivers: it would have to be "extreme, rare circumstances." Really? Too bad, according to the article, these waivers are not well publicized on the government's website. But there are nearly 2 million people age 90+. If you place the 90+ age group inside the 85+ population, we’re now talking about nearly 6 million people. Most of the discussion of a swelling oldest demographic centers on Social Security running out of money in by some date certain (the people who do these projections are always certain.)
Not ready for longevity’s non-compliance. But I think this deadline signals a much different issue – a society that is structured on the premise that this population wasn’t going to live this long, that they would be comfortable with tech enough to sign up for services like direct deposit, that they were mobile enough to make it happen if they aren’t online, that many other services for them can be altered at the whim and pleasure of the organization that needs to save $30 million here or a few million of their administrative dollars there. And the rationalizations – check this out from Walt Henderson of Treasury: "You think of that paper check floating out there in the delivery system, with personal information on it, it's much more susceptible to fraud versus an electronic payment." Really? And that article link is just about the seniors who actually have bank accounts. Maybe those that don’t have them are also worried about hidden fees.
Switch to other societal dimensions that don’t see longevity coming. Private home building codes (as opposed to public buildings) do not require home features (blocked-in backing for adding features like grab bars) to be part of new residential construction – even though the house may be owned or resold to someone who exceeds the publicized longevity projection of an average of 83 (men) or 85 (women). I just attended a concert in a hall with truly untenable stairs for the mostly-older audience – and watched most attendees crowd into its single alternative elevator. Now consider what has happened to product design for equipment like televisions, DVR players, new microwaves, etc. as the tech design 'innovations' rock on at CES, newly bought devices (Ultra HD?) that baffle everyone. On a visit to an assisted living community last weekend, no staffers could be found (and they were all under 30) who were able to figure out how to play a DVD. (Bet they won’t be getting an Ultra HD device any time soon.)
Average life expectancy projections are wasting our time. Young product designers, designing for themselves, have already demonstrated excellence at products that are impossible to connect, too slippery to hold in one hand, to adjust the input modes on the remote, to adjust the thermostat in a home. Unlike Social Security and the surprise factor about the lack of bank accounts, some retailers and public buildings reflect on the advancing age of their customer base – in advance. This too could have, should have, been the task of Social Security (who pretty much delegated it to AARP). Too late now, but looking back to 2011 and previous, was there a public town hall hearing (outside of Congress)? The fact is, government agencies like Social Security provide 73 million people with funds that are due to them in a timely and clear process under current law. That makes Social Security a service provider, not the arbiter of choice for technology and/or fee-based banking adoption.