As we Age


In the spring of 1992, I went to a conference where a fellow with nerd glasses explained that ‘This is the last User Interface you will ever have to learn.’ That was Windows 3.1. Then came Windows 95, ME, XP, Vista, 7, 8.1. Every damn one of them has been different. Seven different ones in less than thirteen years.

For me this is a pain. Heck, I remember when programs were keypunched onto cards. For other people this is more than an annoyance. It limits their ability to use and enjoy technology.

Consider the typewriter. The user interface (i.e. the keyboard) has remained the same since 1873. This despite the fact it was originally designed to slow typists so that they didn’t jam the machine.

The telephone has gone through three user interfaces. Originally, the operator simply lifted the receiver and told the operator what number he/she wanted to call. That gave way to the rotary dialer, circa 1920, and then to the push button dialing which was first introduced in 1962.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler’s book ‘Future Shock’ was published. His shortest definition for the term was when a person decided there was too much change in too short a time.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want a cell phone to work as a phone. A few years ago I upgraded from my flip phone to a smart phone. There are things about the flip phone that I miss, such as:

  • Charge it on Sunday and it lasts all week long.
  • No pocket dialing.
  • A Display I can read in direct sunlight.
  • A phone that fits in a small pocket.

It’s time for a new phone, and I’m thinking about going back a step. The Android OS for cell phones was introduced on Sept, 23, 2008. Version 5.1.1 of the operating system came out last April. Who really wants five revisions in seven years?

For seniors the ‘Future Shock’ is more intense. While seniors in Canada own cellphones (61%) only a few have a smart phone. “Too damn complicated” is what they say if you ask them.

The problem grows much worse when the senior’s faculties are dimmed with age. One company from Australia has completely redesigned the cell phone, with such people in mind. Some of the features include:

  • Personalised menu with pictures of contacts.
  • Long battery life.
  • Light enough to be worn with the provided lanyard so it is not misplaced.
  • A customized back with critical medical information and address details.
  • Built in protection to avoid bill shock if user forgets to hang up.

However, it’s more than just that the device is complicated. The response time for icons on an Apple screen is 0.7 seconds, but the over-65s have a response time of about one second. The computer demands more than the senior can deliver. The nerves in the finger become less sensitive with age, meaning older people may “touch” far more heavily, especially after years of pounding manual keyboards. Finally, tests suggest that if an older person has a slight tremor, it can be registered on a device as a swipe rather than a touch.

Small wonder seniors prefer real buttons to touch screens.

It is estimated that, by 2030, 19% of the US population will be over 65 – roughly the same proportion that currently own iPhones. That’s a pretty big chunk of the market.

Personally, I want the robot companion from the Movie, “Robot and Frank.” Then I’ll have the robot answer my calls on my cellphone.

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