Tech and Aging and Why It Matters to You

I have heard it over and over again. “The solution is technology.” It seems no matter what the problem is, the solution being offered is technology-based. I can’t tell you the number of calls and meetings I have had with innovators and designers who are working to solve issues around fall prevention, social isolation and caregiving that are all based in technology, and they all want access to our members!

The thing is, technology can feel confusing and overwhelming. At least it does to me. And, more importantly, when we say technology, we can be referring to so many different things. It’s almost as if the word has become a ubiquitous response that is supposed to be an easy solution, but without guidance, support and service, it is not always the easy solution that it appears to be.

I have a 14-year-old son who taught himself to code and invented an app over the summer. I congratulate myself when I correctly sign onto the VPN every day, and I grew up around computers. My family had two computers in our den before we had a remote control for our television, and after school, one of my chores was to practice spelling on the computer. (I still can’t spell well, much to the chagrin of my English teacher mother.) The fact is a digital divide exists and it is not just about access.

The digital divide is real and it is deep.

It exists between those who understand tech and those who don’t.

It exists between those who can afford tech and those who can’t.

It exists between those who have access to tech and those who don’t.

It exists between those who love tech and think it can solve everything, and those who sometimes want to put it back in the box.

It exists between those designing tech and those who use it, who aren’t 20 years old. 

It exists between those who use the word tech to define everything, from a pair of glasses you can wear to alert your child (who can be anywhere), that you have fallen, to a database that can track your susceptibility to COVID-19 (two concepts, both of whose designers met with us just last week) and those of us who are trying to get our phone systems to work now that the entire staff works out of their homes.

It exists along color lines and socioeconomic lines and geographic lines.

I’ll say it again. The digital divide is real and it is deep.

That is why ASA is taking a deep dive into it, and using our new membership benefits programs. You may have noticed in our new Collaboratives Platform, and our Tech and Aging Incubator. This isn’t just for people who have an invention or idea, there is no need to be a “Techie.” We want you to join if you are a social worker or caregiver who may end up using the technology. ASA wants to help drive co-design to ensure that the voices of older adults, their caregivers and the people who work on their behalf are all being considered in the design of tech that is being developed for them!

One tech innovator now requires his staff to live in a long-term care facility at the start of their employment.

I recently met a gentleman from France who moved into a nursing home and lived there to get to know what being a new resident feels like as he was developing fall prevention aids for nursing homes. He now requires his staff to live in a long-term care facility at the start of their employment.

We can’t require every innovator to live and breathe the experiences of their end user to that level, but imagine what the user experience would be if they did. Our Tech and Aging Incubator is there to allow you to give input and thoughts, and to connect designers with end users.

Also this week, we are releasing our newest Future Proof episode. Future Proof is an ASA Studios Production—a podcast and a webcast—our version of a radio or TV show that you can listen to or watch at work, from ASA’s website. Each season looks at a different concept of innovation in aging.

This season we are looking at innovations in connectivity, as we gear up for winter months that have traditionally been a trigger for loneliness and social isolation, but are expected to be far worse this year with COVID-19 infections on the rise. We know that not all the tech we talk about is something you will have in your workplaces or homes this year, so we talk about solutions you can implement this year, and those coming in the future, as together we search for long-term connectivity opportunities.

And, on Dec. 7–11, ASA launches Generations Forums with Tackling the Digital Divide, and when we say Tackling the Digital Divide we mean all of the digital divides! Our new Generations Forums are fun and immersive ways that will require just 30 to 60 minutes of your day for one week to really learn, think about and advocate around one topic that matters in the aging field.

We are kicking this Forum off with a focus on tech and aging, because our members asked us to. Especially lately, we have been hearing of solutions offered through technology, but not enough discussion around access, accountability, understanding and collaboration. Our goal is to reframe the solution of technology in a way that makes sense to our field. We purposely kept the cost of to a very affordable $45 for members, as we look for more ways to bring you dynamic content that will help support you right now, when you need it most.

Frankly, when one in five people is going to be ages 65 or older by 2030, and 70 percent of the spending power in the United States will be in the hands of those older adults, it seems a little silly that touch screens are being designed in a way that doesn’t work for the dryness of older fingertips.

People in the aging sector have as much to contribute to the field of technology as technology can offer to the field of aging, and ASA wants to help guide that opportunity. That is why we are kicking off our new membership benefits programs with a deep focus on tech and aging, and we hope you will join us.

As you can see, this isn’t just for the computer science club members anymore! (But, hush! Don’t tell my son. He just thinks it’s cool, and I’ll take that Mom Win!)

Cindy Morris is ASA’s Vice President of Development and Community Engagement. Ben Proothi, her son, would love for someone at Apple to read this blog and check out his app!