There is no denying that Christmas is well on its way. The seasonal adverts are out, and the shopping rush has begun. However, as recent news stories have rightly pointed out, this is also a time of year when the lonely in society feel even more isolated. Recently, it has been reported that self-checkouts at supermarkets are leaving seniors feeling lonely and sometimes even “threatened,” and it is exactly this sentiment that I believe we must work to change. Starting from the initial planning stages, and filtering down into design and manufacturing, the tech we are producing is not catering for those who need it most.
Currently, most technology is tailored only to those who are youthful, digitally literate, and fully capable of manoeuvring their way through the modern world. During development, seniors are, at worst, being completely overlooked, and at best being treated as a ‘minority’ audience for new technology. Sadly, the tech industry is letting this age group down.
Making the efficient more efficient has been the ethos behind creating technology for far too long. It is high time that the more vulnerable members of society become the focus, because for them, the right kind of technology can really be life changing. As someone who works in tech, I must unfortunately say “we” when I talk about the industry. And I think that we have failed the weakest amongst us, and now is the time to rectify it.
Our goal, as a tech startup, is to help, not hinder. We know that computer and mobile manufacturers are not looking to develop for seniors, so we decided that we must. This week, we launched KOMP, our ‘one button computer’ and we have designed it with compassion, rather than efficiency, in mind.
We spoke with seniors, and tried to better understand their struggles with modern technology. One of the first things we learnt was that people over the age of 80 have “leathery fingers”, which lack the moisture needed to easily interact with touch screen interface. This may seem like a petty issue, but the fact that touch screens are not designed for dry fingers means that old hands cannot navigate them, no matter how large the menu or button is made.
Once we had these, and many other, technical insights, we then began trying to figure out the most isolating factors for the older generations today. We learnt that many seniors don’t use technology for fear of failing, or being embarrassed by their lack of knowledge when it comes to modern communication. We also understood that this age group feel that asking questions of their younger relatives, and needing contact with them, would be an imposition to everyone else. They don’t use new technology because they don’t know how, are too embarrassed to try and, worst of all, they don’t have anyone to turn to for help.
Thankfully, these are things that can be easily fixed. To test our solution, we recruited five families and five seniors over 80 years old to test our first prototypes of KOMP. The seniors had varying handicaps including vision, hearing and mobility impairment. We had our work cut out for us in trying to make those in their 80s and 90s test the latest tech.
However, the results were amazing. One of my favourite stories from this project involves an 84 year old farmer, who had insisted we place the device in the far corner of his living room. He wanted nothing to do with it, but after only two days he asked his grandson to move the device close to his chair so he could keep track of the pictures that kept coming up. Two months later, none of the five seniors wanted to give us back the prototypes. From June until now they have collectively received more than 2,000 pictures and texts as well as video calls, all of which were received by the device automatically, and passively enjoyed by the seniors. For these five, technology became a way to fully interact with the family, rather than something to be nervous about.
In creating KOMP, we learnt a valuable lesson that is worth sharing. Modern communication does not need to be an intelligence test. Technology can mean more, and be more, than having the latest upgrade or newest hardware. It can be simple, and it can be used to include everyone, no matter their age or situation. At least, that is what we hope to achieve.