May is national Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute. One area in particular threatens to prevent older adults from making those connections: the digital divide.
Nationally, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do use the internet, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Even in San Francisco – the home of technology giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google – 40% of older adults do not have basic digital literacy skills, and of those, more than half do not use the internet at all.
Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. If we do not provide technology access and training to older adults, we shut them out from society, worsening an already worrisome trend of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.
As a researcher working directly with isolated older adults to provide low-cost internet, tablets, and digital training through the Tech Allies program, led by the non-profit Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, I regularly hear this sentiment from seniors.
I visit Tech Allies participants – whose ages range from 62 to 98 – both before and after their eight weeks of one-on-one technology training. We talk about their experiences with and perspectives on technology today. In reflecting on why he and other older adults would want to learn to use the internet, one elder told me, “We feel like we’re standing outside a building that we have no access to.”
Another woman shared that because she doesn’t have internet access or know how to use technology, she feels, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join…. Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.”
In contrast to concerns about technology use increasing isolation among younger populations, the communication and connection possible online can be especially valuable for older adults who are homebound, live far away from family, or have lost the loved ones they relied on for social support in their younger years. Elders can use online tools to connect with friends and family via messaging platforms, video chat, and social media even if they can no longer physically visit them.
Older adults can find online support groups for people who share their medical conditions. And they can engage with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if they are no longer able to move about as easily as they once could. As one elder told me, “I can’t really move that easily without a caretaker and I only have her a few hours a day so [the tablet] … has been a great companion for me and it gets me connected with other people.”
For older adults in particular, the risks associated with social isolation are profound. Loneliness among older adults has been associated with depression, cardiovascular disease,functional decline, and death. Technology can serve as an important tool to help reduce these risks, but only if we provide older adults with the skills they need to access our digital world.
But we can close this gap. Our research shows that Tech Allies measurably improves older adults’ use of technology and confidence in key digital skills. Programs like this, which embed technology training in existing community-based organizations, should be expanded, with increased funding prioritized at local, state, and federal levels and with greater involvement of technology companies and investors. If we spent even a fraction of the $8 billion invested in digital health companies alone last year on tailoring these tools for older adults, we could drastically expand usability, training, and access to broadband and devices.
Support from technology companies could take many forms. Beyond expanding device donation programs, technology companies should design devices specifically for older adults (when your hand is shaky, swiping can be tough…) and should have tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet (cache and cookies and clouds, oh my!).
Furthermore, broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T should streamline the enrollment process for their affordable internet programs and expand eligibility. Partnerships between service providers and community-based organizations focused on older adults will be key in ensuring that these efforts actually meet the needs of older adults.
To be sure, many older adults also express a lack of interest in technology. For some, this reflects a true lack of desire to use digital tools. But for others it reflects an underlying fear of technology and lack of skills. Appropriate training can help to quell those fears and generate interest. In particular, great care must be paid to online safety training. Older adults are more likely to fall victim to online scams, putting their personal information at risk, but with tailored digital literacy training, they can learn to navigate the internet safely and securely.
The importance of digital inclusion is not going to disappear with the generational changes of the coming decades. Technology is continuously evolving, and with each new digital innovation come challenges for even younger adults to adapt.
With greater investment in providing accessible devices, broadband, and digital training, technology has the potential to become a powerful tool for reducing loneliness among older adults, empowering them to connect, create, and contribute online. As one elder put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”
Apple Q1 2022 winners & losers: iPhone up, iPad down in bumper holiday
Apple has released the earnings report for its first fiscal quarter of 2022, announcing yet another all-time record with revenue hitting $123.9 billion. The company credits a “very strong customer response” toward its latest and greatest products for the growth, noting its earnings ultimately jumped 11-percent compared to the previous year.
Apple’s most recent fiscal quarter ended on December 25, 2021, raking in growth across the services, wearables, Mac, and iPhone products lines. The iPad was the only notable exception to the records, with the overall trend hinting at a bright future despite pandemic-related disruptions.
The company hasn’t provided forward guidance since the start of the pandemic and the most recent quarterly earnings report is no exception. Despite that, Apple CEO Tim Cook did offer some insight into the company’s expectations for the next quarter in a statement to CNBC, revealing Apple expects to see “solid year-over-year revenue growth” during its March quarter.
As with many other companies in the industry, Apple has been hit hard by supply chain disruptions. Though this issue won’t disappear overnight, Cook said Apple expects these “constraints” to be less of a problem in its next quarter compared to the December quarter.
Apple introduced its iPhone 13 series in September 2021, paving the way for typically high sales over the holiday period. As of October, the company warned that supply shortages may end up hitting the iPhone and iPad lines, potentially impacting holiday sales. This reality was reflected in consumers’ struggle to find the iPhone 13 Pro, at least in their desired configurations, for weeks after its launch.
Though the December quarter ended up exceeding analysts’ expectations, the struggle isn’t quite over. Cook explained that Apple’s “biggest issue” involves supply chain constraints related to legacy nodes, a problem we’ve heard before. However, Apple’s CEO did reveal the company is “doing okay” when it comes to acquiring leading-edge chips, which refers to the powerful hardware powering many of the smart devices used in everyday life.
The constraints aside, Cook also mentioned Apple’s ongoing environmental and social efforts as part of the company’s earnings announcement, stating:
We are gratified to see the response from customers around the world at a time when staying connected has never been more important. We are doing all we can to help build a better world — making progress toward our goal of becoming carbon neutral across our supply chain and products by 2030, and pushing forward with our work in education and racial equity and justice.
Facebook Messenger will tell you if someone screenshots your disappearing message
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major new feature for Facebook Messenger, one that will significantly improve privacy on the platform: Notifications when someone screenshots your disappearing messages in a Secret Conversation secured with end-to-end encryption.
“New update for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats so you get a notification if someone screenshots a disappearing message,” Zuckerberg wrote on January 27, 2022. “We’re also adding GIFs, stickers, and reactions to encrypted chats too.”
Facebook first introduced disappearing messages in November 2020, in both Messenger and Instagram. The move was part of a larger effort to provide additional protection across the company’s messaging platforms, with WhatsApp receiving a similar feature just weeks before.
From the very beginning, Messenger would notify users when someone took a screenshot of a disappearing message, making this latest announcement seem redundant. There’s one very important difference, however.
Facebook’s end-to-end encryption push
Facebook has been working to roll out end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging platforms. E2EE is a significant upgrade from server-side encryption and is considered the gold standard of privacy and security. In the case of server-side encryption, the service provider has the key that can be used to decrypt your data. As a result, you can never truly be sure who is accessing your data and messages.
With E2EE, however, your data is encrypted in such a way that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read your message. Not even the provider, whose service you’re using, can intercept and read your messages. Needless to say, while E2EE offers unrivaled security, it can be more difficult to add features that are commonplace in non-E2EE services.
That distinction is what makes Zuckerberg’s latest announcement different. Facebook is now providing screenshot notifications within E2EE chats, adding an additional layer of privacy and security to such messages. The addition of reactions, GIFs, and stickers to these chats, meanwhile, will make private conversations a bit more exciting. The new features are rolling out now.
Your iPhone could accept contactless payments in the future
Apple is working on a service that will let you accept payments directly through your iPhone, according to a new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. Gurman’s sources say that the tech giant has been working on the feature since 2020, when it purchased Mobeewave, the Canadian startup behind new tech for smartphones that lets them accept contactless payments from credit cards.
Gurman reports that the payment system will probably rely on the iPhone’s near field communications chip (NFC). The iPhone already uses the NFC chip to process payments using Apple Pay, so it would make sense to build off of that usage with the new service.
Currently, users accepting payments via their iPhone have to rely on third-party hardware from companies like Square. With this new tech, though, businesses would be able to accept card payments by simply letting the customer tap their card against their iPhone. It’s an interesting concept, and one that could turn the world of handheld sales on its head depending on how Apple pushes it.
Apple could announce a new iPhone SE, too
While Apple hasn’t shared any real details about the plan, or indeed any official news at all, it is something to keep an eye on. Additionally, Gurman says that the tech may debut later this year, alongside some other announcements that people are expecting from Apple. Chief among these other announcements is a new iPhone SE model, as well as an iPad Air that offers 5G connectivity. Gurman says those devices are expected to debut in March or April, and we’ve already seen previous reports about a new Mac that uses Apple’s custom-built processors, too.
Apple pushing towards accepting payments directly on its devices isn’t exactly a surprise. The company has slowly been expanding its payment options in the past, with the launch of the Apple Card, as well as a push to get Apple Pay in more stores around the world. The company also launched the Apple Cash Card, which allows you to send payments directly peer-to-peer, similarly to services like PayPal or Venmo. All we need to do now is wait and see how Apple pushes this new service, and exactly what it means for current payment providers like Square.
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