A few days ago, I wrote about two forms of digital divide: how our dependence on computers effectively disenfranchises those that can’t afford modern technology, and how the movement towards touch interfaces is disenfranchising a segment of the disabled community. Today, I’ve run into an example of another disenfranchised group: the seniors/computer illiterates.
Recently, I’ve been running into more and more people who have trouble interacting with computers. In some ways, this goes beyond Picnic or Idi0t errors (see this great NY Times article: “Make Sure the Problem is Not In Your Chair“) to people who don’t even understand the concepts. You know these folks: I’m sure they’ve called you clueless. They’re the ones who feel the way to turn off the computer is to turn off the power bar. They’re the ones who don’t even know where a start button is or what the windows logo is. They’re the ones who don’t understand the differences between browsers, what a location bar is, or what it means to right click something. Now, I tend to call this group “the seniors”, but I want to be clear I don’t mean all seniors, just the ones to whom computers are completely foreign. Translation: If you’re able to figure out how to read this, I don’t mean you!. Perhaps a better name for this group would be the computer befuddled.
We all know this group exists. The problem is: with our rush into digital services, we’re disenfranchising this group. This is the group that wouldn’t know how to do ebanking or get insurance quotes by phone (let alone use a smart phone). This is the group that needs physical objects to listen to music; they would have no idea how to stream or download music. This is the group for whom having government services available on the Internet means nothing.
As we attempt to save more and more money by moving services to the electronic side, we are cutting off “the seniors”. We are either forcing them to pay more, use services they don’t understand… or forcing them to torture their computer-literate children.
In many ways, this is a failure we can place squarely on our major operating system and application vendors, who have their interfaces designed by the computer literate. Perhaps they should be offering simplified but secure interfaces (so no “Microsoft Bob“) designed by those not computer literate for those not computer literate. Just like there is the senior cellphone that has limited options, we need the senior operating system and browser.