I just got back from trips to Florida and Oregon to visit two very old folks—one 93 and one nearing 90. Both are women, one lives in assisted living, the other at home. Both are lonely. At a time when we all talk of engagement, twitter, social media, connection, conversation—all that—we neglect the one community that really needs community. Old folks don’t get much attention in the US, especially from young folks. Yet it is the young folks, with their expertise in building digital communities, who can really help the old folks who need connection.
So I propose we set up a contest to design a OLPG—Old Laptop Per Grannie. It would enable people in their 80s and 90’s to easily connect to their families and friends, plug into communities of interest, play games (virtual mah jong anyone?), and jabber on about the old days as much as 20 and 30-somethings blah blah about their current lives.
This is a challenge in simplicity and ease of use. We need to get students and designers to live with people in their homes or assisted living rooms and really understand their needs, capabilities and limitations. We need touch-screen monitors that easily connect to grandkids’ laptops, movies and music from the 30s and 40s (their youth). We need programs that help with medical care (keeping track of taking those 15 pills a day and the never-ending doctors’ visits).
You get the picture. This isn’t rocket-science. We have all the design and technology available right now. What we lack is the initiative. Nearly two decades ago, Patti Moore donned an old woman’s get-up that made her look and act like an old person. Her research led Smart Design to create the OXO brand of products for Sam Farber, a major visionary. We need that kind of vision today. It will all flow back into how we design and operate the things around us and make them simpler and easier to use.