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Retro is a word that needs a tech future

Make the new look like the old - please.   Retro is used as a style term, but it really is a desire, (no matter what age we’re at) to return to some prior period when life was simpler. And frankly, tech was easier to use.  We have radios with dials, remote controls with bigger (still inadequate) buttons. Why not a smart phone with a traditional hold-in-the-hand receiver?   Hey, no kidding, someone invented it! Native Union’s Pop Phone Handset – plugs into any smart phone or tablet.   And eliminates the requirement to put a hockey puck sized device next to your ear.

Tech for the very large wave of the rest of us. Which brings the topic right around to BeClose President Liddy Manson’s great column in the Washington Post yesterday – Why tech firms make a mistake by not catering to seniors.  Her column made the point that 40 million, or 13% of the US population are 65+, within that segment, 11 million are 80+. You’d think that would represent a big market enough market to vendors. Why can't they take up the ‘retro’ design challenge, especially when it comes to tablets and smart phones – make them look like something familiar, put the information about training programs where all are likely to go – yes, I mean CVS and Walgreens, which now sell phones and even have smart phone-based shopping.  But nothing about how to use a smart phone. 

No matter what our age – there is a device complexity that will elude us.  No one really loves it when the familiar changes – at all ages we are nostalgic for something now gone, something better, something easier to understand.  And as Liddy also noted, device manufacturers could reduce the complexity to something simple, something that looks like something we understood – maybe even like the Pop Phone handset.  But in fact, device manufacturers design for teens and the young because they are young.  And we all encounter baffled resistance when showing something new to someone clinging stubbornly to the old.

Look down at your hands.  Find the tiny back arrow on the iPad and delicately touch it.  Imagine a slight shake in your hand on a one-sensitivity-fits-all Droid screen. Go into the stores where the geniuses, geeks, and other fun folk are standing around to help you learn how to set up and use your baffling device. Watch the young 'geniuses' quickly swipe, touch, and pinch -- and then hand the thing back to you. Wouldn't a senior in their 70's or 80's be discouraged or intimidated by the experience? I have an 83-year-old family friend who walks past the Apple store every day and still sends mail on a Landel Mailbug, because going into the store is just too scary. Hopefully something like this new SeniorTechRally will be coming to a location very near those stores, maybe in senior centers, CCRCs, and even in or near CVS stores sometime soon. When the Times talks about the so-called 'new' Digital Divide -- they were only talking about affordability of high speed access, not the usability of the interaction modes to enable it. The modern digital divide ultimately will be an uncrossable chasm at some point in everyone's life.  Maybe a 'retro' movement would help.