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Tech terminology gets new definitions, unfortunate outcomes

Our technology language and expectations change. One day a phenomenon that might once have seemed startling becomes so accepted that we scarcely notice what changed. Technology once perceived as innovative and useful, degenerates through actual usage into a worrisome trend that begs for individual and/or parental control – even inviting government interest and possible oversight as in Europe. Here are four technology trends with origins that might not have seemed alarming at the beginning:

Four Aging and Health Technology Blog Posts from September, 2021

September 2021 – it got away. But much happened during the month, including the release of the 2021 Linkage technology survey of older adults, rarely fielded and so their tech behavior is poorly understood. Meanwhile, September was a month to consider the business practices of social media monopolist, Facebook – in print (WSJ, Washington Post), on 60 minutes, and as some might say, blah, blah, blah. Will regulation happen? Will people seek a new platform, search for other online photo sites, find an offline hobby, go outside? At this moment, investors doubt anything will change, despite plenty of posturing. Here are the four posts:

Big tech wants to serve older adults -- initiatives are accumulating

Apple gets it that its customers are aging – and have their devices.  That was not always the case. Long ago, maybe as early as 2009, a query was placed to the analyst relations team at Apple to find folks to discuss Apple and technology adoption of older adults.  The answer was: "Apple does not do aging."  Then in 2010, on behalf of an AARP-sponsored research effort to contact a few of multiple Apple groups already involved one way or the other (Apple Health!), got no response to requests to interview execs that would have been interested based on their roles.  That was then. Fast forward to 2021 and the fact that baby boomers have all the money (and many health issues, too). Note Apple Health, Apple Accessibility, fall detection on the watch, detection of gait changes, changes in AirPods that clearly target conversational hearing issues. And that doesn’t count the health-specific features on the watch that will no doubt include blood pressure checks.  

Beyond Facebook -- finding other ways to share

Once upon a time, there were photo albums. You know, the kind that have leather-like binders, with plastic covers for the prints. People would buy extra prints for their friends and relatives after a big event like a wedding (remember wedding albums?). Binders would fill bookshelves (remember bookshelves? They once held books). Then along came Facebook so that families could keep up with each other’s kid and dog photos. A study in 2013 noted that this was a bit worrisome -- "people don’t relate well to those constantly sharing photos of themselves." How quaint. It turns out that populations don’t relate well to sharing of political slams, holocaust denials and incitement of riots and genocide. Defensive in the face of the WSJ series, though, Facebook insists things are under control. 

Broadband access for all -- are we there yet?

Broadband penetration among adults in the US – is the job done? According to Parks Associates, 88% of US households have broadband. Do you find that confusing? Startling in the face of all of the state and government initiatives to connect more households? Minimum speed issues possibly going to be revised? What speeds are they talking about? Watch a Netflix movie? Participate in a zoom call? Not exactly. Turns out the current speed definitions “aren’t high enough to do anything.” Not a single area of West Virginia is properly served, according to that June 25, 2021 article. Colorado, Virginia – same complaint. Slow speed access is akin to no-speed access. Moving slowly past the speed issue – gets you to the adoption problem for older adults. What’s that you say? 22 million older adults, or 42% of the 65+ population, lack wireline broadband? Shouldn't that matter?

AARP 2021 Tech Trends Survey -- is the tech glass half empty?

First the ‘good news’ about tech adoption…  According to AARP’s newest technology adoption report, just published, older adults are positive about the role technology can play in their lives during and after Covid-19. They are chatting via video, using social media livestreams and modernizing their technology. They are buying smart TVs, costly smartphones, and earbuds.  The survey reports that 20% of the 70+ age range owns a wearable, possibly a smartwatch. Also notable, considering that most wearables are still paired with them, smartphone ownership, according to this survey, has risen most sharply among those aged 70+, with 77% of responders indicating they own one. This is a number worth questioning, however, since Pew Research's most recent mobile fact sheet indicates that only 61% of the 65+ have smartphones.

Big tech – from simple tools to cynicism and hapless users

Reading about big tech controversies can make you sigh.  Rant on. You may remember when the browser arrived.  Maybe you knew about Mosaic in 1993 or Netscape Navigator in 1994.  But you probably did not try them unless you were a geek -- because there wasn’t much to look at then on the so-called World-wide-Web.  Apple’s Safari did not appear until 2003 and Google Chrome in 2008 – eventually these dominated the browser market, though three cheers for the existence of privacy-oriented browser Brave (2016) and search tool DuckDuckGo (2008). No doubt both will disappear into acquisitions. As for social media, things really got going with AOL Instant Messenger in 1993 -- then all was pretty quiet until 2003-4, when LinkedIn, MySpace, Skype, and Facebook all arrived. 

65 is the new 85 -- Covid-19 cultivates elements of ageism

Is sixty-five the new eighty-five – and is ageism trendy?  Note the interesting behavior of ‘leaders’ during the time of Covid-19.  Consider the EU guidance: "The chief of the European Union's executive has warned the block's elderly that they may have to stay in lockdown till 2021 due to the new coronavirus." And in California, as seniors use more technology to communicate with others, the executive director of the Village Movement California, Charlotte Dickson, observed that EU guidance is consistent with Governor Gavin Newsom’s thinking for California and his March 15 order telling the 65+ to isolate at home: "You’re basically disappearing almost 30% of the state of California, and ageism is all about disappearing people … once you retire, you’re done. If seniors are being asked to continue physical distancing for the better part of the next year or two, divisions between generations may calcify."

Ten Years – Technology for Older Adults – 2009-2019

Look back to remind us where we are.  Ten years ago, the tech product choices designed for older adults were few and rudimentary. The intent was simplification of the basics for the tech-reluctant – sending email, looking at information online.  As an analyst migrating from the IT industry, it was startling to see the limited capabilities of the offerings like Presto the Printing Mailbox (used, eBay), Celery (printing mailbox – gone), Mailbug (device to send-receive email – still on Amazon), and Big Screen Live (browser for seniors - gone).  According to an AARP Healthy@Home report from 2008, the only home tech device that had any level of awareness (91% of responders) was Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS).

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