Bridging the Digital Divide in an Age of Technology Disruption

Bridging the Digital Divide in an Age of Technology Disruption

Bridging the Digital Divide in an Age of Technology Disruption

In the grand narrative of technological progress that defines our era, the rhetoric often focuses on the convenience and innovation these advancements bring. Smart devices, instant messaging, and on-demand services are all readily available at our fingertips, making daily life more efficient and enjoyable— or at least, that's the idea. However, as I examine the digital landscape, there is a group that seems to be consistently overlooked in the rush towards a digital-first world— our olders. I often find myself excited about technology and then quickly disappointed that I cannot share it with the olders in my life without taking on the massive role of senior tech support.


Aging in the Age of Disruption


The rise of digital technology has undoubtedly reshaped industries. We've seen traditional processes, once reliant on human interaction, replaced by efficient, screen-mediated transactions that cater to mass populations. Services like taxi hailing, banking, restaurant reservations and travel planning have all largely transitioned to smartphone apps and online interfaces, simplifying operations for the able and tech-savvy but inadvertently alienating those who may be less interested in the time it takes to learn a new approach if the hurdle appears too high.  


Where does this leave the older generation? The seniors who were once the lifeblood of commerce and contribution, who made personal connections at their banks and phone calls to order taxis, are now faced with a world that no longer accommodates their preferences, if at all even acknowledges them. The trend signals not just a technological gap but an emotional and psychological one, too—leaving behind individuals who were once pillars of society and providers for younger generations. In order to have food or services seniors need companies that build or help seniors only. They should not need elder companions, senior companion care, or senior living to accommodate the non-medical services that should be available to them. 


The Psychological Toll of Technological Exclusion


There's a certain irony in the fact that a generation that has witnessed man landing on the moon, the birth of the internet, and the advent of mobile telephony, finds itself feeling inconsequential to the modern world. The inability to perform rudimentary tasks, such as calling for a taxi or transferring money, can erode self-esteem.  For a demographic that has the time and potentially the disposable income to capitalize on modern conveniences, being locked out of systems due to their lack of technological prowess is more than an inconvenience—it's a wound to the ego and a blow to their independence and we are all staring down the barrel of this same fate. Do not think for a second that because you are an app developer now when you are 70 the new developers are going to think of you, nor be so foolish as to think you will always be able to keep up and understand the newer applications of technology. How will it feel to have to call on senior in-home care to help you do tasks you otherwise would be able to do?


And, these technologies are not just optional, or a novelty; they are increasingly becoming the exclusive avenues for access to essential services. Seniors are not 'early adaptors,' nor should they have to be. Their life expectancy and overall well-being should not be tied to their ability to operate a smartphone. The situation is further complicated by the fact that with each new technological upgrade, seniors are required to essentially relearn the process from the ground up, making them perpetual novices in the digital realm. We are ALL frustrated by #passpwordgate... imagine what it is like for those older.


The Burden on the 'Sandwich Generation'


Here is an ironic twist, the burden of providing help to seniors with technology falls upon their adult children—the so-called 'sandwich generation' who find themselves responsible for both their children and now their parents, who require support and time in adopting and using the very technologies their children have come to view as instinctive.


The assistance provided by the sandwich generation in helping their parents adapt to technology is indeed a labour of love, but it is one that also raises questions about systemic issues. Are digital technologies providing a net positive, or are they shifting what, to a certain extent, was a community-supported burden to the individual and their immediate family?


A Call to Corporates and Innovators and UI/UX Designers


The responsibility ultimately lies with the corporations and innovators who design these technologies. If a company can create an algorithm that optimizes routes for ride-share drivers, surely, they can develop interfaces that are more user-friendly and accommodating to older adults!!  This extends beyond the scope of merely enlarging font sizes or providing step-by-step guides. It is about truly understanding and incorporating the needs, capabilities, and fears of a demographic that deserves as much respect and attention as any other in the consumer market.


It is a call to corporate social responsibility—to not merely recognize the ageing population but to actively cater to their needs, maintaining an inclusive dialogue and designing technology for a broader, intergenerational audience.  I have never met an older adult not willing to weigh in and help. It means no one is asking or they are unaware.  This means working with seniors, not just for them, to create solutions that make their lives easier and help prevent the development of a new kind of societal division. It should not have to be a senior app to be usable by seniors. 


The digital divide is not just an issue of access; it's an issue of equity and dignity. For a demographic that has given the world so much, the least we can do is ensure that as we march forward, we do so with an eye on inclusion and an outstretched hand for those who wish to join us. We always ask our developers who the oldest person they know is (too often it is 65), and we ensure they observe what they are building in the hands of all adults, especially olders. We even design with adults as old age 92!  In the end, we must remember that we are building the values of technical design for a world we will also age into.  Let us please set an example so we do not box ourselves in!