Just a couple of weeks ago, my mum made a Facebook boo boo. She had accidentally uploaded a photo and wanted it gone before too many people saw it. So she asked me and I removed it within the space of a minute. Social embarrassment avoided.
Similar situations happen on a daily basis in my house, with Facebook being one of the biggest offenders. Despite having never used some of Facebook’s newest features, by spending almost my whole life synchronising with the latest trends and processes I am still able to quickly solve most problems.
That smells like good UX right? Easy to navigate, everything is where you expect it to be, solve problems without assistance. Tick, tick, tick. BUT. Why isn’t this easy for our parents or our parents’ parents?
Firstly, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that behaviour, attitudes and knowledge varies between age groups. For example, my parents have been raised in a time where you were lucky if your family owned a landline. If you weren’t so lucky, you would go to the nearest telephone box. Times were so, so different to this when I was growing up. Everyone was connected; texting on mobiles or chatting on MSN. But my parents were there too when technology and mobiles became part of our daily lives. In fact, I was the one getting their second hand mobiles.
When did my knowledge overtake their understanding? School definitely helped; we were being submerged in technology. Traditional methods were being eradicated by fancy tech solutions like replacing the classic whiteboard with interactive screens.
Outside of school the constant pressure to follow the latest trends, from Neopets to Bebo and Myspace made screen time an absolute social must. Combine these with the ability for a young mind to absorb and learn rapidly, and this technology set the stage for our social development.
We embraced tech as kids and carried that knowledge and love through into our adult lives. But not so much for my parents. They were busy juggling full time jobs and raising a family. Any spare social time would be spent talking to friends in the ways they already knew, rather than learning new tools to do it.
How is the knowledge gap growing today? I spend 70% of my day looking screens and if I am not using tech, I am talking and learning about it with my likeminded colleagues, both things which my parents don’t have. And nor do they want it, they are content without it.
From past to present, their transition from tradition to tech and their less frequent use will have impacted their technical understanding today.
The alienating evolution of Tech Do you remember the first version of Facebook? I certainly don’t. Since its creation in 2004, it has changed thousands of times. It has grown massively in order to appeal to the impatient and fussy users of today.
This evolution has sadly come at a price. Users like my mum and dad are now utterly lost. Not just in how it functions but also in its purpose. Their infrequent use and the regular changes make it hard to keep up. And they aren’t alone, I hate it when something updates and I no longer know where or what everything is. But for me, the web feels familiar, and I understand its language.
Add these all together and tech starts to become a little intimidating. You can see how my parents have lost confidence in tech. It’s evolved much quicker than they have time for and when they do eventually get their head around something, it is subject to regular changes. My mum would have worked out how to delete that picture but she’d rather just ask me to sort it for her. She’s given up trying. Why bother when I can do correctly and much faster?
I know I am not the only daughter who takes on the role of tech support for the family. And I know that many of the problems I have identified ring true for many people, not just 60+.
People are being left behind. And the world isn’t waiting for them to catch up. We are geared up for solving problems for the majority but not for everybody. Tech will continue to grow rapidly so how can we make it inclusive for everyone? Should ‘Accessibility’ be about every type of user, not just those with a disability? I don’t know how we solve it but I do know our inclusive design attitudes need to evolve to meet it.