Dr. Raelene Wilding is an Associate Professor of Sociology at La Trobe University, where she’s undertaken research into the technology usage habits of older adults, particularly as part of “transnational families”. She’s also been involved in research with technologies such as virtual reality, touch screens and google maps and their potential uses in residential aged care.
In this conversation Raelene talks about some of the influences on older adults technology use, how to build supportive digital communities around seniors and designing technology with the older adult in mind.
Ash de Neef: Thank you so much, Raelene for joining us on the podcast today.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Ash de Neef: Can you maybe give us a bit of your backstory to start us off?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Well, I’m a sociologist at Latrobe university, and the research that I have been doing for quite some time now has been investigating how people use technologies to maintain their families and their intimate relationships.
And my most recent projects have been about the role of technologies in the lives of older adults. So thinking about the ways in which older adults maintain their family and social networks using technology, but also more recently thinking about other things that technology might be able to do for older people.
So I’m thinking about it as a source of leisure as a source of brain training and thinking about some of the obstacles that older people face when they try to use technology as well. So that’s some of the writing and thinking that I’ve been doing more recently.
Ash de Neef: Wow There’s a really a big selection of areas we can delve into there.
Why don’t we start, because you mentioned at first about communication and about, the role of technology in families for the aged people.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yes. So the work that I’ve been doing for quite some time now has been with families of migrants in Australia. So we’ve been working with – I’m part of a team who have been working with people from a range of different migrant backgrounds from European countries, such as Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands. From Asian countries particularly Singapore but also Myanmar or Burma. And also from New Zealand and from the middle East. And what we’ve been trying to make sense of is how migrants in Australia are using communication technologies to maintain their connections with family who was still living overseas and what that means for their lives in Australia and what that means for the ways in which they live their lives across multiple locations.So we refer to them as transnational families.
And what we’ve found is that people who have migrated to Australia are really early adopters of communication technologies and really passionate about using communication technologies in order to maintain their families. So they will be picking up on the latest apps and particularly the latest cheapest apps that allow them to communicate more often with family members who are living overseas.
So that they can continue to care for those family members and continue to maintain a sense of connection to their home country and the places where they grew up. So one of the things that we’ve done in our most recent research is to ask ourselves the question, well, is this also the case for Australians?
For people born in Australia, are they also using communication technologies in the same way?
And one of the things we’ve found is that actually the Australian born are less likely to do that. I mean, we know from the statistics that Australians often have family members who have gone overseas. So it’s not that they don’t have social networks living elsewhere, but there seems to be less engagement in using communication technologies to keep in touch with those family members.
And that’s probably just because there isn’t the same need. I think if you haven’t migrated overseas, you don’t really understand the distance that separates you from the people you care about and you just perhaps waiting for them to get in touch with you.
Ash de Neef: That’s really interesting. I’d never, would’ve thought that, Australians are a bit slower on the uptake there.
How does that work with elderly versus younger people?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Our research suggests that it applies across all of the different age groups, that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a younger person or an older person. What matters is whether you’re a migrant who has experience of that separation from family and friends, and wants to overcome that separation from family and friends.
So there are some really interesting statistics that come out of the Australian digital inclusion index that reinforces this insight that we’ve had from our research. Which suggests that the group in Australia who are the most digitally disadvantaged. So the people who are less likely to access communication technologies, less likely to be on the internet are older people aged about 60 and over.
But the people who are amongst the most digitally included are people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. So even when you’re from a refugee background, you’re perhaps facing all sorts of issues in terms of access to employment and income and so on, they are still amongst the most digitally connected – and it seems to be, well, our research suggests anyway, that that’s because they’ve got the greatest motivation to be involved in communication technology. So they will find those cheaper means of connecting and communicating to make sure that they’re able to keep in touch with family and friends.
Ash de Neef: Wow,I guess it shows people will go to whatever lengths they need to maintain their connection. Now, I assume that this doesn’t just extend to their feelings of connection to their family, but also their cultural identity. Right?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Absolutely. And I think being connected to family is partly about being connected to who you are as a broader person.
So it is about being connected to the sorts of festivals and celebrations that your family has always engaged in. And it’s about being connected to the events in the hometown that you grew up in and, and in the country that you came from. So we tend to – in sociology at least and in migration studies more broadly – we don’t really talk about migration is the movement from one place to another.
We now talk about migration as the spanning of multiple places. So you tend to remain connected with where you came from, even though you’re creating a life in your new place. So just because of migrant is staying connected with their home country, whether that’s India or Burma or Italy or wherever, just because they’re maintaining that connection, doesn’t mean they’re not also building a life in Australia and becoming Australian as a part of that.
So they’re actually doing both at the same time and it’s communication technologies as well as the capacity to visit that makes that possible. So that would be the other technology that plays a really important role is travel technology, the ability to fly back.
And actually spend time or have people come and visit you as well.
Ash de Neef: Absolutely. Now I read a statistic in one of your research papers that one in three, over 65 Australians were born overseas. So this, this is especially important for elderly population of Australia. And I guess in aged care facilities as well, what sort of barriers are we seeing preventing elderly people from becoming more engaged with technology?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yeah, it’s a really interesting point because as I was saying before, older adults are highly motivated, older migrant adults and older refugee adults are highly motivated to stay in touch with their family and friends overseas. But particularly people who have arrived in Australia at an older age or people who haven’t had an opportunity to engage with technologies in their work lives, they rely really heavily on local support to help them have that connection.
So we’ve been doing some work with people from refugee backgrounds, living in Australia and having a look at how they use communication technologies and all of them are using iPads and phones and, not only using telephone calls, but also using video calls and going on Facebook and all of these things that they’re doing, which make them sound really tech savvy.
But actually they can do this usually because they have a child or a grandchild who is helping them with that. So the child or the grandchild is setting up that device and setting up the accounts or giving them access to their own accounts, setting up the phone calls. And it’s not just about having local support here, it’s also about having local support in the country overseas.
So we have stories of family in Italy where they’ll have to perhaps get hold of a cousin in a neighbouring town to come along and help the older adult there connect with their sister, who’s an older adult in Australia. So on both ends, you have people who are facilitating this access.
And I suspect that might be one of the reasons that we see this big difference between migrant older adults having good access to technology and Australian born older adults, not having such good access to technology. And I think it’s because we don’t have that same culture in the Anglo background, Australian families of actually supporting our older family members in using technology.
So it’s not, there seems to be a lot more frustration and despair about that and embarrassment as well, older people I’ve spoken to talk about, “Oh, I can’t go to my son again with this because they’ll just get frustrated and they’ll be annoyed. And I seem to go to them all the time.”
Whereas in a migrant family, what we tend to see is that the children and the grandchildren will actively say, Hey, granny, you know this, and this might help you to connect with your sister over in Singapore or wherever it is that they want to connect to.
Ash de Neef: It sounds like, you’re highlighting the cultural differences there, but it sounds like the, the people who are more isolated who don’t have the strong support network around them, they’re the ones who are going to be the most disadvantaged in their access to technology.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Absolutely. And particularly as people get older, the more isolated they are in their social lives, generally, the less digitally included they’re going to be as well. The less digital citizenship they’re going to have.
And I I’ve been thinking about what the reasons might be for this. And I think if we think about what it means to be a young person in school or university or an adult who’s in employment, we’re constantly surrounded by opportunities to learn about technology and to update our tools of technology and our knowledge in technology.
Once you retire the opportunities to learn and to keep up with technology actually reduced significantly, you have to make a much stronger effort in order to keep up with what’s going on, and I think after a few years, people probably just give up. They just think, “Oh, I’ve never been that technologically minded, so I’ll just stop engaging with that.”
And so out of the research I’ve been doing is to try and help reverse that trend, to try and think about what are the supports and structures we can put in place so that people don’t have to just give up and say “Oh that technology just keeps moving too far and too fast ahead for me.”
And instead think about giving older people the opportunity to ask, “well what technologies might improve my life and how can I best access them? What are some of the. Strategies I can use to make sure that I keep up with the ones I want to use and find out about the ones that I don’t necessarily know about.”
Ash de Neef: Is that a matter of establishing more digitally savvy communities around elderly people, what are some examples of how we can make that happen?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yeah. And I think it’s partly about trying to establish communities of practice. So allowing older adults spaces, where they can come together and share their knowledge of technology with each other and learn from each other – so learning from peers.
There’s also been some really good work that’s been done in Melbourne and elsewhere around the country as well, where intergenerational programs have been established.
So younger people coming along and giving some tech support or some training on social media or you know, how to use your phone – so a younger generation speaking to and working with an older generation.
There’s also some really good work that’s been done in libraries and local communities. The University of the Third Age as well, for example, sometimes has little courses and things.
I think one of the problems that emerge is although there are quite a few resources around, quite often, those resources are about teaching a particular thing for a particular period of time. So this week at the library, there’s going to be a session on how to use Twitter.
And I think like all of us, what older people actually need is an opportunity to learn about Twitter, not just this Wednesday afternoon at two o’clock, but next Saturday, when I actually want to have a look at something or next Thursday, or in three weeks time, when I think, yeah, actually that is something I want to do now, or that seems like it would connect to Twitter.
So there’s not that ongoing environment in which people can actually share their knowledge, which is why I think communities of practice are a way forward to actually give older people a space. To exchange their knowledge and keep on sharing their knowledge and updating their knowledge collectively.
Ash de Neef: Could a community take the form of a regular meetup or a digital space, or what kind of examples can you see of communities that might work.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yeah I think it would be nice if they could be digital because then they could reach more people. But I think for a lot of older people, the knowledge they need has to be delivered in person because they don’t necessarily have the same framework of how technology works.
They don’t necessarily have that framework in their heads that allows them to draw the connections between different bits of advice. So I think really it needs to be an in-person sort of community of practice.
And I could imagine regular meetups, I could imagine that’s the local library hosting, sort of a tech and chat session once a week where people can come along and they can just say “Hey, what phone have you got?” And“Oh, did you bring your iPad today? You know, what does that do? Have you discovered a new game this week?”
You know, and actually just have a conversation about what they’re doing on technology, not just as avid technology enthusiasts, but also as regular, everyday technology users. So I’d like to see it being built into all sorts of activities people are already doing, as well as creating perhaps specific clubs where people come together and just share knowledge with each other.
Ash de Neef: Yeah. Now you mentioned games there and we’ve been talking a lot about communication and connection, but can we touch on some, some ideas of leisure? How can technology be embraced in a wider way in the elderly community for leisure?
Dr Raelene Wilding: Yes. I think there are a few different, um, ways in which technology can actually help overcome social isolation and loneliness for older people that are to do with opening up a space for play.
And that was, one of the projects I was doing last year was exploring exactly that question ad it was exploring it in relation to virtual reality. Could we imagine having like a virtual reality, club, a club for virtual reality users? Who come together and play games alongside each other.
And I was sort of inspired by watching my children. They’ll have people come along and they’ll buy games alongside each other, but they’ll also play games online. And I thought, well, maybe virtual reality could be a fun way of giving people an opportunity to expand their horizons.
And I was really pleased with the outcomes of the project because we had a core group of people who were coming every week to the sessions. And some of the people who came along just came because their friends were there and were quite adamant in the first session that they would not be using virtual reality, and they were not interested in learning this themselves. But after a couple of weeks, they were the most enthusiastic users and they were actually identifying particular games or experiences that they wanted to use and to re-experience.
And the way that we set it up was that everyone in the room could see what a person was doing on a large screen. So just on a TV screen while the person was actually in the experience themselves. And it created a new opportunity for interaction between these older adults, it prompted memories some of them remembered times when, they’ve been deep sea diving and then someone else would go, “I didn’t know, you used to deep sea dive.”
And so it prompted opportunities for them to talk with each other and engage with each other. So one of the things that I was really pleased about with that was that it did seem to build deeper relationships within the group of people who already knew each other a bit.
But this gave them another way of hanging out together and spending time together and getting to know each other and building stronger relationships of support.
Ash de Neef: That’s fascinating. It sounds like the setup was somewhere between, a game and a performative experience for the, for the viewers. I’m sure that there’s elements of, as you’re saying, watching something together is going to spark a new level of connection as well.
Was it only experiences of going to places and seeing things in VR or were there games as well that were being played?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: They were so experiences with the most popular, but we graduated from experiences to starting to play games as well. We didn’t have the technology cause we didn’t have the funding that would allow for that.
So we didn’t have the technology that would allow them to play a game together. So there weren’t any interactive games, but we did have some games where people were achieving goals, within their virtual reality environment and then other people in the room were giving advice and saying,“Oh, you should do that or you should do this”, or laughing at the failures and, you know, applauding the successes so much more of that sort of performative model that you mentioned before.
What that did was to give other people a sense that, ‘Oh, maybe this is a game I want to take part in as well.” And there was one woman in particular who had a very well mannered woman who seemed to be very neat and petite. And then you put her in front of a particular virtual reality game where she had a gun in her hands and she became a real crack shot. She was getting in there and shooting all the baddies and everyone was just thrilled to see this other side to this lovely person who suddenly became quite ferocious in her aggression towards these imaginary villains.
So, yeah, I think it helped people to explore other sides of themselves that they’d perhaps never been able to explore before in their lives, that they seem to enjoy.
Ash de Neef: Yeah. I think when some people think of early people using VR, they might be imagining all sorts of technical headaches and the discomfort of wearing a headset and that sort of thing.
Did you encounter any of those barriers and if so, how did you overcome those?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yes, there are quite a lot of barriers. I think the first barrier. Yeah, it’s just the expense. Like as soon as we’d bought equipment to use, it was almost obsolete within months of us having bought it and the experiences constantly need updating as well.
The project was also running in a rural location, sin a small town where the NBN did exist, but it wasn’t entirely reliable. So we often had sessions where we spent the first half hour just waiting for the clouds to part so that the internet would come through. And so that was a bit of a, an obstacle in some weeks.
In terms of the technical knowledge, it did require, so it was myself and another person who were facilitating the sessions. And I was hoping that some of the participants would actually reach a point where they would be able to manage that themselves, but we never reached that point. So that I think that would actually require ongoing facilitation, that sort of project would require ongoing facilitation. So you need someone to come in to take responsibility for setting it up, to take responsibility for sourcing new experiences in games that meet what people have said they’re interested in.
I don’t think there is any way in which you can expect older adults themselves to have the skill and the problem solving knowledge. I think we take for granted, being in the workforce and having to problem solve with our technologies all the time. I think we take for granted that problem solving capacity that emerges from experience with technology.
And the older adults I was working with, were often a little bit, they had trepidation, like if I problem solve, I’m going to break it rather than it has to be problem solved. So there’s a bit of a generational shift there, but also just this sense that, yeah, it’s not the experience in and of itself is not worth all of the anxiety that comes with having to do that management of technology themselves.
So a lot of pleasure when it’s there and it’s working. But none of them were actually willing to take on the responsibility for making it happen. So I think those sorts of programs do need to be facilitated by someone who does have access to expertise.
Ash de Neef: Perhaps it’s training for somebody who works at the facility, who’s on staff there.Now in 2018, you were involved in a study using touch screen technology in aged care facilities. What were you looking for there? And what were some of the things that you found.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: So that was, again, one of the projects where we were just looking at what sort of a role could technology play in creating a, a more sociable environment for people in this case, in residential aged care.
So the other projects have all been about people living independently in retirement villages or in their own homes, but this particular project was having a look at. What happens in residential aged care where loneliness and social isolation are really big problems. You know, you would think living in residential aged care that older adults would have access to friends all the time.
But in fact, there are, there are a lot of problems in terms of connecting people within residential aged care, and this is a widely acknowledged problem in the sector.
So we were exploring the role of technologies in responding to that problem, and we tried out a couple of different things. So one of the things we tried was like, sit dance class, where you had people sitting down and they were following instructions that were happening on this big screen.
And then there was another one where we were actually using, Google Earth on the big screen to take people back to their home countries or back to other places that they’d lived earlier in their lives. And both of them were really very successful in terms of engaging people and giving them a sense of connection to each other, and a sense of purpose to the technology.
But I feel like the Google earth experience was actually one of the more profound experiences because it does allow people to make visits outside of residential aged care that are otherwise not possible. You know, these are people whose mobile lives have suddenly become well, not suddenly, but have gradually become immobile.
And there are very few people living in residential aged care who would actually go out and travel overseas or interstate, or even, you know, to a nearby town. So there might be day trips, but there are not those opportunities to go and spend time in another place.
So what the Google earth experience was able to do was to take people outside of the residential aged care setting and prompt memories for them of places -and they could actually, what those places look like now. You know it wasn’t just looking at old photographs, but actually going and visiting and virtually walking down a street and seeing, “Oh, I went to school there and that’s where so-and-so lived in. Oh, there’s the shop that I used to go to. Oh, that particular place has gone now, it’s been replaced by something else.”
So bringing back all of these memories of places, where they used to live.
Ash de Neef: Nice. And that, that ties very nicely into something that SilVR Adventures does combining the Google earth with VR as well. How did you find the, the sit dance engagement, were people engaging as a group or what was the experience with that?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yeah, no, people were, were enjoying that as a collective experience, but again, and this is the same as the virtual reality experience I was talking about before it requires a facilitator. So the older adults would be very unlikely to actually go in and set this up for themselves.
So, you know, the equipment was there all the time. But the thought of them going and actually initiating that activity was just not something that was going to happen. Whereas if you have a facilitator on hand who says, okay, this is our sit dance time, then people would find it enjoyable and they would engage. And they, they would appreciate the experience that it gave them, but it does require facilitation. It does require somebody who has that technical expertise who can set it up and make sure it’s working. And it does require someone to actually mobilise people into doing the activity and lead the way.
So it wasn’t enough to just have the sit dance activity on the screen, you also needed a caregiver or a facilitator there doing the activity as well and showing what it looks like from the other side. So I think probably one of the strongest messages that’s come through in all of our research projects, is that role of the social, of having somebody next to you to help you to engage in the digital.
Ash de Neef: It sounds like it’s going to be important to have a mixture of engagement styles, not just self motivated, but having facilitators, as you said. And now we’re recording this interview at the start of September in 2020, and we’re still living in the pandemic mode. Have you seen any, any changes in the uptake of technology by elderly Australians through the pandemic?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: That’s a really good question. Because of lockdown we haven’t actually been able to go out and do research in residential aged care facilities for reasons I’m sure you can understand. It’s just not worth the risk to do the sort of research we do. Our research doesn’t save lives it improves lives.So actually going out and spending time in aged care facilities or with older adults has been very challenging. But what we are hearing is that there’s a bit of a shift in terms of understanding the potential of technology with older adults.
So one of the obstacles that we have identified in residential aged care, particularly is that there’s not a sense that new technologies are that important. So the internet, if it is available is not prioritised as a tool for people living in residential aged care. [It’s] very rare that you will find a program of facilitated access to iPads or, support for telephones or anything like that.It’s very much a case by case basis of individuals relying on family or friends, to help them with those things or to introduce those, those tools into their lives.
But what we’ve seen with the lockdown is a bit of a shift where aged care providers are starting to see that actually iPads phones, laptops can be a really good tool for social connection, for people living in care with people outside of that care environment.
So I’m hoping that this is going to be part of a broader shift where we do start to see more of that engagement of technologies within aged care contexts. But one of the obstacles we have to that is that the funding models don’t allow for it. The funding model for aged care really does just pay for the basic physical care that people receive.
There isn’t enough money in the system to also support the social needs of older adults. And so this would be one of the, I guess, one of the biggest challenges that we would like to see addressed is to see aged care funding including a component that is about supporting social engagement.
That’s about supporting play and leisure and the things that make life worth living. It’s one thing to actually keep a person alive, but it’s another thing to actually make their life pleasurable. And I think aged care workers, and aged care facilities often do, an incredible job given the resources that they have.
They, they really are committed to the well-being of the residents, but without the funding to support social engagement and connection, they’re really up against it. It’s almost impossible to achieve the sorts of outcomes that could make life really good.
Ash de Neef: And do you see that the majority of this funding would go to technology and its use in, in aged care facilities?
Or, or do you think there are other areas that money could be spent as well?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: I think technology should be part of the mix. I think technology allows for experiences that you can’t have without that technology. And I’m thinking here of, you know, the Google earth experience. Like, unless you have that technology in front of you, you can’t go and visit your hometown and show your friends around that hometown. And you can’t suddenly realise that you’re great at shooting villains. You know, there are particular experiences that opened up by having access to technology.
But I’m not convinced that technology is the only solution. I’ve what I would like to see is funding that is directed towards social care more generally.
So asking older adults themselves, “what is important for you to feel that you have a life worth living” and asking them how that might be supported, how that might best be supported?
And I’m thinking here as well about not just, um, social networks, so not just access to family and friends who might be living at a distance, but also access to spiritual lives.
And one of the things that I’ve been really pleased to hear about is the ways in which particularly during lockdown, older adults who have not been able to attend their local church or their local faith environment, and actually been able to do so online.
So they might be attending a service or a sermon or some sort of religious ritual online because they can’t go there face-to-face.
And so I think, yeah, I think there is a role for technology, but it should be part of a broader sense of what people need, in their older age and listening to them about the sorts of things that matter to their identity. And thinking about how a mix of technology and non technological solutions might contribute to doing that.
Ash de Neef: What I’m hearing there Raelene is that whilst technology might be involved, it needs to be purpose driven, whether it’s through spirituality or through having a closer connection to a home country or whatever it is that there needs to be a specific reason for using the tool of technology.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Absolutely. And that goes back to the issue of motivation, doesn’t it? Which we see with migrants taking up technology because they’re motivated to keep in touch with family and friends overseas and with bases and people overseas. And if you don’t have that motivation, then technology is kind of pointless.
Technology is only useful in as much as it’s a tool that you can use to achieve your life goals.
Ash de Neef: Now do you think that the funding is, is the only, or the main reason that aged care providers have been slow in the uptake of technology? Or do you think there are other elements at play as well?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: That’s a really interesting question. I think funding is a key issue, I think the aged care sector is underfunded and has been chronically underfunded for a long time, which means that it’s not necessarily able to address all of the concerns that it would like to address.
But if we combine that as well with some of the ageist assumptions about technology, then it becomes an even worse problem.
So I think it’s very common to assume that because someone is older, they’re incapable or uninterested in using technology. And what I’ve learned through the research I’ve been doing recently is that that’s just not true. You know, people of any age are capable of learning technology. They’re capable of using technology and they’re interested in using some technologies.
The issue is they’re not necessarily interested in using all technologies, so just because something is technology doesn’t mean they want to take it up. And they’re not necessarily able to learn technology in the same way that a younger person would learn about that technology. They need tools and resources and practices and groups that work for them.
Not, not trying to use something that works for 20 year olds and saying, “Oh just because you’re older, you should use the same as us.” There needs to be more attention to design for design that is age specific design that acknowledges the needs and preferences and abilities of older adults, rather than assuming that the designs for younger people will work for older adults.
Ash de Neef: Hmm, that sounds like some things have been trialed, but maybe trialed in the wrong way in some facilities. Is that what you’re hinting at there?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: I think so. And I think often there’s a real appetite for introducing technology into aged care settings or into the lives of older adults, just for the sake of it.
And this is often market driven, that there’s this sense that there’s a growing population of older people so we need to try and create a market for our new technology products to make sure that we can, we can benefit from that growing market.
And I guess I would respond to that by saying actually the best way of growing your market is to go and speak to older people and find out what they’re genuinely interested in and then responding to that. Rather than taking your product to older people and saying, take this up and then wondering why they won’t, you know, it’s just about flipping that around.
Ash de Neef: I think we’ve really covered a lot. One question I’d like to ask you though, is what do you think the future of technology in aged care looks like? Whether that’s in residential facilities, in care in the home, how do you think that the future will look with technology?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: That’s a really good question, I think it does depend on the designers of technology really.Because the future could end up looking very much like the present, where there’s a big gap between older adults and new technology.
It’s a complicated story because a lot of commentators will tell you that actually it’s only the current group of older adults who were going to have that problem with accessing technology, because the people who are older adults in 20 years, there’ll be people like me who have grown up with technology, maybe not as much as people who are only 20 now, but certainly I’ve had a lot of experience with using technology and so chances are, I’ll still be able to use that when I’m an older adult.
But I think what that argument fails to take into account is that technology is constantly changing. So if I am not in a work environment where I’m being required to keep up with technology and being given the resources to keep up with technology, I’m not sure that I would be able to maintain my capacity.
So I think there’s the potential to always have a gap between older adults and new technologies. Unless we start to see a lot of movement in the design space where people are actually paying attention to the fact that people in different age groups, people from different cultural backgrounds, people with different educational backgrounds, that we all use technology slightly differently. And that it might be worthwhile designing for an age group, you know, consulting with an age group to find out what they need, rather than assuming that you, as a young designer have the answer to technology and that your model works for all age groups.
So I I’d like to see designers and I guess marketers and promoters of technology actually paying closer attention to the differences of the different population groups.
Ash de Neef: Mm, I can think of several examples of phone manufacturers that put in different accessibility options for example, but these, these do seem after the thought they don’t seem like they’re an integral part of the design process. What do you think needs to happen for this to have the climate around this to change?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: I think it just takes will, you know, a will to do the change. I don’t think there are any particular obstacles. I mean, obviously more funding for research, such as the research I’m doing that helps to identify and acknowledge and record the perspectives of older adults and their uses of technology, that’s always welcome, but that’s a very self-serving answer.
I think as long as technology companies take seriously that there are different markets for their products and start thinking about perhaps designing with a particular age group or set of abilities in mind that that might help.
But you know, there’s, there’s also another opportunity here which is then it comes out of your mention of accessibility. If devices are designed in order to be highly accessible, if they’re designed so that the people with the most obstacles to access are being served, then I suspect that that same technology will work very well for everybody.
So maybe rather than starting with, what does the 25 year old want from their phone this year? Maybe if you start with, what do we need to build into this technology to make sure that the 90 year old with arthritis in their fingers and fading vision, and poor hearing can use this device, then surely everyone’s going to be able to use it. And surely that would be a much better outcome.
Ash de Neef: Absolutely. And it’s probably going to come as attitudes towards ageing change and Australia I think is, is slowly an ageing population. We’ll be changing over the coming decades and perhaps as people over 65 are seen as a viable portion of the market, perhaps we’ll see more developers take that segments more seriously.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Yeah. That would be a nice thing to see. I do worry though about the undercurrents of ages and that persist in inside of that, and I think we see that particularly in relation to technology.
So I think maybe we need to start rethinking that relationship between older adults and technology and recognising that just because you’re older doesn’t mean that you’re less capable of using technology, but rather you need different ways of accessing that technology and maybe even different technologies.
Ash de Neef: Do you see that these undercurrents as things that are, do you think it’s flaring up this ageism or, or are you just seeing persistent problems?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: It’s certainly a persistent problem. So I don’t think ageism is new. But I do think that, a global pandemic that targets older adults perhaps brings out some of the worst of ageism where we do actually have debates about whether an older person’s life is worth saving and whether the sorts of challenges that we’re all facing in order to keep this pandemic under control are necessary.
And I find those sorts of discussions, very troubling. Once you start hearing people discussing the lives of older people are somehow worth less than the lives of younger people. So yes, I think the age-ism is certainly alive and well. So this too is a moment for us to reflect on how we might combat that ageism and to try combating it across all parts of daily life, including technology.
Ash de Neef: Perhaps part of that is separating out, the value of productivity from the value of the human.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Absolutely.
Ash de Neef: Raelene we’ve covered a lot of stuff [and] we’re almost out of time. Is there anything you want listeners to know about your research or about the way technology is being used at the moment?
Dr. Raelene Wilding: That’s a really good question. No, I think we’ve covered it a lot of territory today. I guess, if I was to have any clear messages, it would be that older adults are very capable of using new technology, and I’d like to see more acknowledgement of that. That older adults have a lot to offer to our society, and that I think ageism, perhaps doesn’t allow us to acknowledge that to the extent we should.
And that it’s not just younger people, but also older adults who can have fun with technology and that we should be looking for opportunities to enable that to happen. So, yeah. I’d like to see more emphasis on fan and pleasure and play.
You know, if you can’t play once you’ve retired, then what’s the point.
Ash de Neef: Fantastic Raelene thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Raelene Wilding: Great. Thank you.