How can I summarize so many different events? A fabulous presentation and ensuing discussion at our AHWGO Salon in February by Dmitri Belser the Executive Director of the Center for Accessible Technology made clear that barriers to technology use by older adults is more about a learning or experience gap than a disability issue – and this can be solved – cannot it? The Wisdom 2.0 conference in Silicon Valley that I participated in brought together the worlds of social networking ( such as Facebook and Twitter), Google ( I think a category by itself and one of the main sponsors of the conference), gaming (such as Zynga) and the world of mindfulness and wisdom with such great minds as Ekhart Tolle, Jon Kabat Zin, Jack Kornfield, Thupten Jinpa and Joan Halifax. As I write this it occurs to me that on the mindfulness side there are great teachers on the corporate side there are great companies – here it is more about an individual leader there it is more about the brand, the ‘corporate culture – otherwise why would not Larry Page have appeared alongside Jack Kornfield? All the spiritual teachers projected the wisdom of older age – becoming a venerable teacher is a lifetime pursuit. The tech side is bursting with young people who are keen on innovating and making a lot of money. They carry at least as much responsibility for influencing human happiness as the teachers on the spiritual side so transferring mindfulness to the tech side makes a lot of sense – yet is there time? The wisdom of old age was conspicuously off the table though and when I proposed the topic “Being At Home With Growing Old – What Can Mindful Design Contribute?” at the ensuing Unconference, one person showed up (he was in his sixties). At today’s Afternoon Tea at the Family Service Agency of San Francisco Cathy Spensley brought together people of San Francisco agencies and organizations and individuals who work in the field of aging in San Francisco to start a dialogue on the isolation many older adults experience in San Francisco. An impressive cadre of inspired, passionate and compassionate people was bearing witness to the many initiatives in this City.
Is there something which holds these three diverse events together? It is the fact that outward signs of frailty like the use of assistive devices or even a less sure gait are equated with cognitive disability by the other ‘four fifth’ and that it is as hard for oneself as it is for others to acknowledge old age and the limitations that inflict us without losing assurance and adulthood.
Who said one cannot demand that technology has to adapt to one’s way of interfacing with reality than the other way around? Who says that one cannot inspire innovation in old age? Who says that one cannot acknowledge that growing old is hard work? Who says that wisdom does not come from living a long life?
Until 2030 a disproportionately large group of people is growing into this 65+ range – the third third (not yet the second half) of life. There is a chance, a likelihood that this shear number will change how we all , the four fifth and the one fifth who are ‘old’ ( a constantly shifting field) will not only understand better what it means to be an older person but also stand up for this part of life and tap into its resources. It is an exciting time for stretching our imagination and imaging our own aging.
Part of understanding technology is to recognize that a lot of technological product have to do with vanity. Just as young, vain people will dress in designer clothes and drive “designer label” cars, so they will own technological products in order to enhance their image rather than for the functionality. As older, wiser people, we should embrace the functions that are useful, but not pay extra money for unnecessary nonsense. An example is cellphones. A simple prepaid Tracfone makes calls just as well as an I phone. You can even get a Tracfone with smartphone capability at at a much lower price than a “sexy” phone.
We need to use technology. not be suckered into paying for unnecessary features.