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Tech use and seniors, ridiculed in media, otherwise ignored

Tech adoption of the 65+ is now buried in a Pew appendix. If age were an ethnic or racial minority, outrage at technology ageism would be vocal and constant.  The 65+ are a mere 46+ million Americans – a group larger than the sum of all of the teenage population non-shoppers.  So their tech adeptness, rather than being viewed as an opportunity, is naturally ignored in surveys.  For example, scroll down and further down on this Pew fact sheet to note level of ‘Digital Readiness’ among demographic groups.  Note that 6% of the 65+ demographic is 'digitally ready' compared to 17% of all age groups. Note that 33% is characterized as 'unprepared.'  And the same percentage applies to those aged 50-64!

Older adults and tech – sneered at or ignored. Watch people with gray hair be ignored everywhere that consumers or viewers are expected to be young and hip. See them sneered at by tech media morons in this SNL spoof titled Amazon Silver posted on GeekWire -- SNL creators presuming that older viewers will not see it because it is aired on TV too late. Or perhaps you might observe a busy Saturday in an Apple store as a gray-haired gentleman disconnects an expensive device to examine its components -- while 15 minutes pass before a sales person approaches. Not seeing him as a prospective buyer? Or just not seeing him?

What does it mean to be among the digitally 'Unprepared?' From Pew: "They have relatively lower levels of tech adoption and do not use the internet for learning, need help setting up new tech devices, and are not familiar with ed tech terms [like MOOCs and distance learning]. The Unprepared do not have confidence in their computer skills and are not sure they can find trustworthy information online."  Now there's a legitimate concern. So who are they?  "Ages 50 and older; Lower income households; women; Lower levels of formal education."  Familiarity with ed-tech terms means greater likelihood, for example, to take an online course. And learn about what can be useful – like gaining new skills for retirees seeking work after their euphemistic 'retirement.'  Or understanding how their financial situation compares to others in their age bracket. Or viewing a Benefits Checkup to check availability or before applying online.

A decade later and a dollar shorter. As more detailed surveys and census analysis shows, 65-74 is its own demographic range. And 75+ is quite different and includes populations with expanding life expectancies and dwindling net worth. In fact, financial advisors are already lengthening longevity planning time spans – apparently not believing the CDC’s unchanged life-expectancy-at-65 numbers of 88.8 for women and 86.6 for men. And for good reason.  For those who live to 65, have enough to eat, live in safe housing, and have access to healthcare, there is no guarantee that you die on that future day when money is expected to run out. In fact, planners now say age 95 is the right planning time horizon.   For so many, that advice is just a bit late.

The device of the day – will tech suppliers care?  So when that life expectancy is reached and/or surpassed, who will be doing these online benefits checkups, making sure they are safe from scams, able to access their retirement funds of every type, sell their house or move, find a doctor, get directions, initiate a direct deposit or withdrawal safely online, book a hotel or a car service? And of course to avoid being stuck with an impossible-to-upgrade paperweight computer, smartphone, or watch -- they will need to do all of these tasks in that ephemeral cloud on the highly configurable device of that day. Yup, that’s the one with its face, retinal and fingerprint sign-in, always-listening AI smarts. By then, fortunately, all will be safe-from-hacker financial and healthcare systems.  Oh yeah, except the Digital 'unprepared.'  



Seniors (65+) are the one of the fastest growing population groups. They need many of the same technical functions their children and grandchildren use to conduct business, shop, order medications, manage healthcare and socialize. And that is now. IoT accelerates this need. Independence requires access to the tools of daily living, regardless of age. The silver market is really a golden opportunity for those who see the potential.

Thank you Laurie for writing about this problem. I understand the power of social media and I am looking to get some online courses up and going. I have the content but I struggle with the technology. My biggest complaint is not that the tech help isn't available - but that the speed of processing of my brain is slower now. I learn differently. Tech help speeds through any instruction and I am lost on the first step. This is not intuitive to me. And, it is extremely frustrating. I will get it done but it just takes me soooo long to make it happen.

The CEO of one of the most potent Silicon Valley AI startups with an aging market focus pointed the SNL video out to me recently. It was not produced live. It is one of the most carefully detailed and crafted SNL skits ever. Multiple scenes, scenarios relevant to fundamental care problems, extremely meticulous and detailed props, multiple sets, skilled videography, apparent high cost. Looks like a placement.

The politically correct Amazon Silver AI system responds to a racist request made in the presence of an apparent grandchild to, “……play black jazz music”,  with a pseudo conscientious, “playing…ah……..jazz”, response.  The actor points straight at the meds on the table; segue to Echo and the meds framed in a side by side close up shot. The skit also included a scene wherein Echo Silver uses integrated computer vision monitoring (Amazon Echo Look was announced April 26th) to assist someone experiencing short term memory loss, ostensibly from dementia. On the night of the program at 9:56 PM SNL tweeted: “Finally, Amazon Echo will reach an important demographic”. Amazon’s twitter reply 19 minutes later: “An Echo designed to reply to any name close to Alexa”, followed by the laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji.

Assume Amazon is acting on a strategy with AARP to connect aging consumers to the world’s largest online retail consumption automation ecosystem. That would be great.

I doubt that anyone amongst the SV aging technology visionaries, including most startups, believes that Amazon alone will be able to integrate everything that needs to be integrated to have the care systems we need.  We should do all we can to help Amazon Silver work. Amazon is tool. We will need every digital aging power tool we can get.  Real or not, the Amazon Silver vision may be the best one we have, for now. 



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