Ageism in tech could drive isolation in older people, advises Verity Batchelder, founder of Good Life Sorted
As technology continues to progress at a rapid pace, it’s important that we keep the users of our tech front of mind.
An ageing population means we now have a few generations of people who are not digital natives, and did not grow up with such varied technology around them.
The role of technology is to make life easier. More efficient.
The most important thing then, is to make it appropriate to its audience, and easy for its customers to use.
There’s no point in investing in complicated, clever tech, if an entire demographic is excluded or discouraged from using it.
The potential issue comes when you look at who is creating the tech.
The average age for tech workers is 38 compared to 43 for non tech workers and 42 is the average age for tech managers compared to 47 for non tech managers, according to Visier Insights Database.
Perhaps ageism is impacting the products and services created by tech industries? As Javeira Rossell, University of Oxford, points out:
“All too often the technology industry thinks of older adults as impaired and believes that their only concern is to avoid deterioration – without considering that there are also needs and motivations for entertainment, information, or culture.”
As a future-looking industry, any consumer behaviour research in tech will naturally be more focused on the youngest generations – it has to be.
But tech connects people, to each other and to vital services. It HAS to include everyone.
Over the last few years, with a global pandemic and through a cost of living crisis, older generations have become more isolated.
According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. 1.4 million older people in the UK say they are often lonely.
But there’s absolutely no reason why technology should alienate older people.
According to Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2018, more than a quarter (28 per cent) of people over the age of 75 now use tablets. And tech can be easy!
That’s the point, for many of us – to simplify things, not create ego-driven products or platforms that only appeal to a certain social group.
For tech to be truly beneficial and inclusive, and make life easier, it needs to be provided in a form that can be easily used by everyone.
Customer research is key – knowing opinions, preferences and habits means the right level of service is provided in the best format, from the start.
Smartphone apps are not always the way, older people are naturally more comfortable using a website on desktop or tablet – it means a larger screen, and a more familiar layout than a small phone.
It may sound a little obvious, but a larger font and clear colour contrast is much better for older consumers. Complex patterns should be avoided and buttons intuitively placed.
Older generations grew up having a lot more direct conversation and are often still more comfortable talking to another person.
Providing the option for customers to speak to a real live person makes good business sense as an enquirer is more likely to turn into a paying customer if they’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation.
Many may not need it, but those that do will appreciate it.
When I worked at Amazon.com, I saw how it made shopping so much easier on a global scale.
Now, as one of the founders of Good Life Sorted, I have created a tech platform that connects the older and more vulnerable people in society with local Helpers.
Our platform connects them with people in their local community so that they can arrange face-to-face support and companionship – vital in an ageing world.
This, to me, is the point of tech: to facilitate social change.
The digitalisation of everyday life is a given. And the progress is fantastic!
But it must not discriminate. It needs to include everyone.