yARN: Silver Surfers - a view from the wave

So what is it about the tech industry that irritates people my age and older?

ARN’s Allan Swann recently reported Gartner vice-president David Furlonger’s warning that the IT industry should pay more attention to older users, the so-called Silver Surfers . You’d better believe it.

Even if 40 really is the new 30, your correspondent must admit to falling well inside the Silver Surfer demographic, which Furlonger said is middle aged or older. While much is made of the so-called Digital Native generation, something the industry should to keep in mind is that someone who used the first generation personal computers (Apple II, Tandy TRS-80, Microbee and so on) while they were at high school is now likely to be in their 50s.

Remember that the post-war baby boom means there is a bulge of older people working its way through the population - people that are, in the main, still reasonably healthy, active and engaged. And it’s highly likely that they have been using IT at work or at home for years.

So what is it about the tech industry that irritates people my age and older?

One common complaint is that changes often aren’t improvements. A prime example was the recent introduction of iOS 7, which (if the gripes that reached me are to be believed) removed many of the visual cues that particular areas on the screen were supposed to be tapped, and concealed some very basic functions that were previously prominent. Creating a new task in the new version of Reminders initially baffled some very experienced iPhone users among my acquaintances, but I haven’t noticed any younger users leaping to the defence of the redesign.

Another relates to less than perfect eyesight. You don’t have to suffer from poor eyesight to struggle with the small text sizes and poor colour contrast (grey on grey? You’ve got to be kidding!) that seems to have started on web pages but now infects apps and even the physical packaging of many consumer goods. A topical example from another field is the redesign of the Foxtel Magazine that debuted with the November issue: the program listings are in smaller type than ever.

One of the biggest differences between younger and older IT users (I’m not sure exactly where the line falls, and it’s definitely not a hard and fast delineation) is that the former expect to be able to get a piece of technology to do whatever it is they want, while the latter often expect they won’t. Silver Surfers may therefore be intolerant of products that don’t ‘just work.’ My wristwatch handles two time zones. Since I travel overseas several times a year, it should make life easier for me. But changing from ‘time 1’ to ‘time 2’ involves such a convoluted sequence of operations that it’s only marginally simpler than adjusting the time, so I have to slip a crib sheet into my wallet even when consecutive trips are to the same time zone. The problem is that the user interface is overloaded, especially when compared with my smartphone.

Another big source of aggravation is arrogantly youthful sales and support staff. I’m quite prepared to believe that a bearded or pierced twentysomething knows something I don’t. But he or she needs to be quite tactful about establishing where I sit on the expertise spectrum. It’s certainly dangerous to assume that an older customer is completely ignorant: that grey-haired woman could be looking to buy her third or fourth smartphone, or her tenth computer. We’re talking about people with money to spend, so why would a reseller discourage them from becoming customers?

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