The newest viral hit on YouTube is an adorable video of an elderly Oregon couple inadvertently recording themselves learning how to use a video camera. The video had roughly 750,000 hits as of Wednesday night; at the time of this writing, that number is closer to two million!
About a month ago, Esther and Bruce Huffman bought a new laptop and decided to try out their new webcam. Their granddaughter gave them some instruction, but Esther said, “I didn’t remember what she said, so the whole time I was irritated, chewing gum so hard, and I looked like… I don’t know what, ‘Wicked Witch of the West.’” Of his granddaughter, Bruce said, “She tries to teach me, you know, what a tube is, but how does the ‘you’ get in there? Like ‘you all,’ ‘you all tube,’ I don’t know.” The video is endearing, hilarious, and a perfect example of seniors‘ struggle to understand and implement newer technology.
That struggle with technology has been a hot topic lately. In Britain, magazine publisher and philanthropist Felix Dennis spoke about the issue in an interview with The Guardian. Dennis, who was born in 1947, owns Dennis Publishing, which pioneered computer magazine publishing in the U.K. He believes that the market tends to ignore seniors and focuses too much on the younger, more tech-savvy demographic.
“If you want to make a fortune, produce a thing like the iPad, make it very light, and preload it with stuff that people over 65 and 70 years old want to see: web addresses, apps, anything you want,” Dennis said. He continued, “Make the buttons absolutely huge and only have a few of them, and put that on the market at 100 quid for people to buy their grandmothers. You would sell millions!”
Imagine, for example, the Huffman couple from YouTube working with a video camera designed especially for seniors. The results would possibly have been less amusing, but would definitely have been less frustrating for the videographers themselves.
Another high-profile Briton, Iain Duncan Smith, agrees with Dennis. Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pension, recently spoke at the Digital Unite Silver Surfer Awards in London, where he called for manufacturers to produce “better and easier to use equipment,” particularly in regards to Internet-enabled devices or computers for seniors. He said that manufacturers often assume that everyone already knows how to use their products. Duncan Smith believes that many elderly people are discouraged from getting online due to the usual complexity of the technology.
“What we may need for some older people is a much simpler interface to get online; the challenge is out there to companies and providers to look at the potential marketplace for better and easier to use equipment,” he said at the awards ceremony. He added, “It may need some rethink about some of the hardware that is out there.”
The effects are not simply on an individual level. Duncan Smith said that there could be a £22 billion benefit to the nation’s economy if more people were online, although he did not specify at the time how he arrived at this figure. There are currently 6.4 million over the age of 65 in the U.K. who aren’t online yet.
Laurie Orlov feels that seniors are a “lost generation” when it comes to technology, for similar reasons as Dennis and Duncan Smith. She is a former Forrester Research analyst who started her own company, Aging in Place Technology Watch. We’ve quoted Orlov before on the firstSTREET blog, as she lists a number of ways that seniors are being excluded by not being online, ranging from missing out on coupons and other discounts to becoming more socially isolated from family and other loved ones.
Orlov is optimistic, however, that computers and other electronic devices will become easier to use for the less experienced. “I think technology is becoming multi-age friendly,” she says.
As the mHealth industry grows, the need for ease of use with electronic devices grows proportionally. In a blog post entitled “Technology aimed at seniors is a necessity,” the AARP Global Network states,
It is especially important to create computers that seniors are able to use, as more hospitals around the world begin to use e-health technology to further assist their patients. Older adults will need easy-to-use computers so they can do things such as accessing their health information and emailing their doctors. As the aging population will begin to outnumber those in the working class in Europe, the UK and many other countries, there will be less doctors to care for older adults, which is why e-health will likely become a crucial part of the healthcare system.
Source: “Webcam 101 for Seniors,” YouTube, 08/21/11
Source: “Felix Dennis talks iPad poetry, Apple approvals and tablets for the elderly,” The Guardian, 09/12/11
Source: “Elderly couple’s web cam woes go viral,” Fox43TV.com, 09/14/11
Source: “Elderly couple becomes unintentional web sensation,” Wave3.com, 09/14/11
Source: “Iain Duncan Smith: technology should be simpler,” The Telegraph, 09/06/11
Source: “Seniors Are Saying No to High Tech,” U.S. News and World Report, 08/15/11
Source: “Technology aimed at seniors is a necessity,” AARP Global Network, 09/06/11
Image by Korean Resource Center, used under its Creative Commons license.