TED Conversations

Nene Odonkor

CEO, Swix


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How can we make technology more friendly to people in their old age?

I have noticed that it is easy to relate with technology especially if you were born in the Internet or Computer age. But those who were born long before the age started struggle to use it to improve their lives. I think we need to come up with technological designs that take older people into consideration in order for them to reap the full benefit. But my question is, in what ways can this be achieved.


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    Aug 6 2011: I think we start with not underestimating their capacity - I've noticed that after a certain age, people started treating the elderly like children and attempting to make all their decisions for them.

    So once we have established what someone would like to accomplish with the technology at hand, then we can match the tech to the need - whether that be streamlining the amount of applications on the desktop, getting them voice-text software to aid their typing, or improving their bandwidth so they can video chat with their grandkids, or even ensuring they have access to shell accounts so they can play in MUDs if that's what they want.

    The single best thing we can do is listen.
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      Aug 6 2011: I think a mistake we make when we interact/help them is to use terminology that intimidates them. Words like "streaming" and "wifi" and "link" are often impossible for older generations to comprehend. What the elderly need is an "Idiots Guide" to understanding and using technology (I'm not using the term "idiot" in a derogatory way - referring to the popular how-to series of books). Better yet a video.
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        Aug 7 2011: Exactly. For example a video that shows a person similar to them - senior citizen in a typical situation where one might use the technology - using a given technology, mostly visualized with only a few verbal explanations of specific points, and no technology terms.

        When they can see someone like them switching on the TV, go to a specific channel and then selecting "Photos" to see pictures and movies of their grand children, they will understand.
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        Aug 20 2011: I agree with you to a certain extent. I was thinking specifically about my grandmother who at 80+ was motoring around on the web, email, and instant messaging systems with ease, where other people just assume that beyond a certain age, people "won't get it".

        But yes, letting them see their peers accomplishing things that enable them to stay in touch with distant friends and family, so they can understand the value first, and then putting terminology into a framework they as individuals can relate to is key.

        Bottom line is we all need to have anchor points to learn new things and we can't make blanket statements about learning capacity based on age any more than we can based on color or gender.
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          Aug 20 2011: In my father's case (he is 83) it is his vision and lack of fine motor control that has made what used to be a worthwhile and enjoyable activity (surfing the internet, emailing family and friends, etc.) a frustrating and demoralizing one. He will not fully acknowledge the extent to which his vision and motor skills are beginning to deny him this pleasure which only compounds the problem :(

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