Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Chisel & the iPad

I don’t know if anybody has noticed, but at the moment, the technology-world is at a bit of a stalemate with our elderly generation. We’re stuck. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an elderly person at a computer, but if you have, you’d know that old people are basically apes when it comes to anything that requires them to be the end-user. Which is all understandable, however, what’s unfortunate about this is that whenever a corporation looks to the masses for direction when considering an upgrade, the elderly seem to be the ones calling the shots, which is bad news for technology. Basically, I’ve come to the realisation that the world, technologically, is being held back by the world’s grandmas and grandpas.

If you’re like me and you’re twenty one with parents that didn’t have you in their teens, then you most likely have a grandparent over seventy. You won’t like reading this as much as I don’t like saying it, but I’ll say it regardless, they don’t have too long to go. The reason I mention this is because the corporations are, in a way, waiting for that to happen. They know that at this point in time, any proper implementation of the available technologies could essentially mean the elimination of an entire demographic of people from their market-base, a generation whom not only are unable to use today’s technological offerings, but refuse to. But here’s the kicker, if the corporations don’t keep up with the times and just twiddle their thumbs until today’s moderately tech-savvy middle-aged generation replace our elderly tomorrow, that would mean depriving a far greater fraction of the population of cheaper and simpler modern alternatives by maintaining costly antiquated methods.

Case in point: the one problem that has always plagued McDonalds here in Australia is the fact that they don't really want to pay their employees, but unfortunately, you can't have your Big Mac and eat it too. So when they pay their employees just enough so that Fair Trading doesn’t come calling but not enough to account for the work that’s done, a trip to McDonalds is just shit; ask anybody, they’ll tell you. Much the same way that the cashiers can't put a sentence together, the cooks can’t put a burger together, all the while, disposing of any common courtesies we as civilised-human beings enjoy treating each other with. So a while back, McDonalds tried remedying this by trialing self-serve, touchscreen registers at a few stores here in Australia and, big surprise, it didn't take. Apparently, people didn't like it! I mean, what wasn't to like about them? I used one of them and I can tell you, it wasn't hung over, it didn't make a train-wreck of my order, it wasn’t impolite, nor was it coughing like a fucking mongoloid, plus it could pronounce werds and sentensez, and yet, it wasn’t good enough. I can’t act like it’s some big surprise though, especially back then with more old people being alive and all, and that was it, the reason. It wasn’t that the registers were poorly designed or that there is no demand for doing away with human cashiers, it was that it was a potential discouragement to elderly customers. How were the Olgas and Henrys of this country expected to order their Apple Pies and Cappuccinos with a touchscreen they can’t use? It took my nan ten years to come to terms with the fact that she needed a microwave in her house, and another five to learn how to use the dial.

This isn’t just tied to fast food either, it applies to any business; take Australia’s banks for instance. They have had internet/ phone banking since back in the Windows Millenium days. This is just staggering to me, especially considering the fact that today, aside from the one or two net-banking terminals in each branch and the cornucopia of ATMs on the streets, we somehow still have just as many human tellers in our banks as we did in ‘90s when a home internet-connection was for the rich. If it isn’t obvious, the staggering part is that after over a decade of more convenient and cheaper means of banking, the employment rates at our banks, by some divine miracle, have remained unscathed. And here comes the why? Because in every suburb, there happens to be a small group of people who still hop on buses to do something with their bank books that I could do in five minutes without leaving my bed. I'm not embellishing on that bank book thing either; my bank still offers them and owns the antique equipment needed to print on them, but they only offer it for one certain account, and take a wild guess what that account happens to be called, the ‘retirement access plan’, a pensioner's account for the elderly. Let’s get real, by offering bank books exclusively to an account that is primarily aimed at the well-aged, St George Bank are clearly saying that they are just on tenterhooks waiting for these people to depart, all so they can finally save the paper, trash whatever single-purpose printers they have and rid themselves of both the consumables and maintenance costs that are attached when offering something that was around in the nineteenth century (no bullshit there).

Needless to say, we’re in a bit of a chasm. We’re currently smack-bang in the guts of an awkward changeover period where companies know that it’s time to upgrade and know that there aren’t many reasons why they shouldn’t, but then of course the question of what to do with the elderly is always raised and a brick wall is hit. It’s kind of like we’re playing an adventure video game and we were going along fine through a few levels with our pencils, paper and petroleum but now we’ve gotten ourselves caught in slick mud and we are only very slowly trekking through it to get to the other side where the technological wonderland is happening. This isn’t to say I too am on the edge of my seat waiting for the elderly generations to die, I still have grandparents around. I also don’t think it’s their fault that they can’t properly assimilate into today’s technological world; they grew up in a world of the pen and the pad, and now they live in a world of the iPad. I just find it a tad irritating as a tech-lover knowing that the elderly are the only thing left clamping pre-computer methods to the way things are done – or should be done - today. I can also sense a bit of this same frustration from the corporate-world. Regardless of how inevitable the road is, they know that by taking it too prematurely now it could mean the possible death (excuse the phrasing) of a whole demographic of people in their profits. I know that the day when this generation are history, it’s going to seem like this world turned into a balls-out technology park overnight, that’s how fast the corporate-world will hop off the old band-wagon and jump onto the hovering one; mark my words.

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