Tech change is challenging -- add support where the people are

Watching people watch their phones.  Over the past several months my consciousness has been raised about the pace of tech change -- and how far behind most of us are from understanding the new phone, computer or software we confront -- by choice! -- at too frequent intervals. Cell phones are kept an average of 20 months at an average monthly bill of $78. And for that expense? Pew Research observes that 35% of adults have cell phones with apps, but only two-thirds of those who have apps actually use them. Why not? According to Pew interviews, users don't know how.  Some recent phone observations:

1) A group of five professionals, mostly in their 50's, are riding in a bus in a traffic jam, trying to figure out how far they are from the destination and what the traffic conditions ahead are like.  Four pull out their smart phones (all different brands), study the maps and navigation features for a while and give up.  The exception -- a younger woman in her 30's pulls out her phone, with the battery nearly gone, studies it for a few seconds and provides the answer.

2) A woman in her late 50's is sent a text message on her new phone and can't figure out how to answer it. A man on an airplane tries to answer a call on his new phone and struggles to unlock and get the call.  An older woman in a restaurant is studying her phone trying to find a number in the directory and doesn't notice that her companions are standing and ready to leave.

So every 20 months, people eagerly respond to hype and (planned) obsolescence.   Older adults, like everyone else, are bombarded with advertising for the latest phone. They respond by signing up for an extended contract to buy down the cost; then they are handed the phone, shown a few features while others wait in line behind them; they are handed a manual and off they go. If they are lucky, they can attend an online course or go to a class. Or more likely, they sit for hours at home, studying the menus, hoping to find out how to [fill in the blank]. At the end of the 20 month average, they have spent $2000 (monthly service, the price of the phone and/or any contract breakage fees). Maybe they have finally figured out the uniquely configured keyboard layout, how to use the navigation features; how to save their bookmarks, read their mail and chat -- or any of a boatload of other features from other apps they are destined (according to Pew) to download and not use. And then, just when they're comfortable, they start all over again -- baffled, confused, distracted and lost in a sea of menus, new keyboard layouts, new apps. How wonderfully stubborn, then, is my 73-year-old friend who refuses to get a smart phone and will not permit (or pay for) text messaging from her grandchildren on her 'feature' phone. Or another friend, a 62-year-old who refuses to upgrade her phone -- saying she can't find a reason to move beyond what she has and knows.

Now let's consider viruses and how they can turn computers into paperweights.  For the sake of this discussion, let's just combine malware, Trojan, and virus into the word 'virus' -- since all three are malicious perpetration from geeks who make it their mission to get these out onto the Internet just because they can -- and just ahead of any anti-virus software configured to shield against them. Recently my husband's entire network of computers became infected from viruses when he accidentally clicking on an Adword -- that linked to a virus variant. A few weeks later, I clicked on a site that infected the machine I was using with yet another variant, forcing a complete rebuild from scratch. Then a few weeks later, on another computer, I clicked on an image in a Google search which pointed me to another website that pointed to -- you guessed it, another virus -- and with it, forced another scan and repair. And it's not just PCs that can be invaded by the body snatchers -- smartphones and Macs too, can be rendered useless.  Even with virus checkers and anti-malware tools, where we go on the Internet, what we click on, whose e-mail attachment we open -- these put our devices and our productivity at risk.

Maybe we need a multi-tech 'genius bar' inside Walgreens or CVS. The Apple Genius Bar idea makes a lot of sense -- and works if you a) have an Apple product and b) can easily get to the store. But a state with 18 million people like Florida has only 16 stores with Genius Bars -- all in urban locales. What if CVS or Walgreens upgraded their photo counter staff with some tech support skills, where you could come in with your prescription refill and sign up for a time slot with a tech person who knows your device, can explain what anti-virus software you might need, give you a personalized bit of advice -- based on a displayed menu of tech products the staffer understands?  Rather than force folks into a tech store, bring tech skills into places where older adults already go.  Don't sell them a device -- sell them service and knowledge about devices they already own. Let's slow down the pace of adoption long enough to figure out the tech products we already own.

It's not just older adults

My company offers onsite Mac support in NYC, and we find that it's not only older adults who are facing these issues related to new technology. So many of our clients are intimidated and overwhelmed by their devices--computers and smartphones primarily. These items are way too complicated for the normal person to get familiar with, beyond the basics. We discourage some people from buying the newest thing, if their idea if fun isn't poking around and figuring out what it can do.

The idea of having more "genius bars" is an excellent one. The Geek Squad model (which is also our model) is also an excellent one--someone comes to your home or office, so you don't have to schlep your technology elsewhere. Next we need ways to train more people to become the future Geniuses and the Geeks.

Little Gray Cells

As one who went back to school nearly 20 years ago at near 50 for a degree in Achitecture and began to practice as computers were emerging as a necessity in architecture, I can attest to the benefits of stretching my mind to understand the complexities of the digital age. Now, I am involved in learning the latest 3d software to continue my practice. I hope to never feel that what I know is good enough. Go toward the fear, it's worth the stretch. And yes, I have had to spend time removing spyware, ransom ware, etc. from my computers, just part of the game. I also help others with the techno babble, just hooked up a friend to internet telephony yesterday for free long distance. Now, I'm heading off to upgrade my cellphoney. By the way, my practice now involves helping people remodel to stay in their homes. Keep up the good work, enjoy your website.

Robert Hiller's comment "Little Gray Cells"

Robert, Great to hear of your ambition and success. I too try to remain tech savvy and run my business using the best tools available without falling prey to the latest toy. You grabbed my attention when you spoke of designing and building homes to allow aging individuals to remain in their homes longer. I am a geriatric consultant and help both individuals and companies plan for aging in place. I would love to hear more about your designs and services. My website is www.ourgenerationsllc.com. Please get in touch.

Also, this publication is a great resource keep up the good work!

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