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.”
Amazon sets a date for its big 2021 Echo and Ring devices event
Amazon has set the date for its next big devices and services event, and if previous years are anything to go by we can expect new Echo and Ring hardware along with potentially a few surprises. The event will kick off at 9am PT (12pm ET) on Tuesday, September 28, and as with last year’s it’ll be online-only.
Last year Amazon didn’t hold back on new smart home hardware. Along with the new Echo Show 10, which could rotate under its own power to face the person interacting with it, Amazon also had a new, spherical Echo smart speaker.
The smaller Echo Dot – and its Echo Dot with Clock sibling – offered a lower price point, and the new Echo Dot Kids Edition dressed that up in more playful designs. As for Ring, we saw the Ring Car Alarm debut, plus the promise of end-to-end video encryption. Amazon also announced a collaboration with Tesla, with the Ring Car Connect for the automaker’s EVs.
Elsewhere, the Eero Pro 6 and Eero 6 added WiFi 6 to the familiar mesh networking, while the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite kicked off pricing at under $30. Amazon also introduced Luna, its cloud gaming service, complete with a dedicated wireless controller.
Just as much a showcase for hardware, though, Amazon’s events have become demonstrations for its software changes. Alexa typically plays a key part in that – last year we saw group calling support, Netflix on Echo Show, and interactive teaching tools – but it’s also an opportunity to see what developer tools and improvements have been introduced.
Finally, it’s a chance for Amazon to surprise. Last year, that meant the Ring Always Home Cam – a flying camera drone that promised automated patrols of your house – though the gadget is still yet to actually launch commercially.
For 2021, it’s likely we’ll see refreshes of Amazon’s core Echo range. After all, with the holidays approaching, that’s a key opportunity for Amazon to put more smart speakers in users’ homes – and double-down on their commitment to Alexa as a platform, rather than the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. The new Amazon-branded Fire TV range could also be expanded.
We’ll probably also hear more about the controversial Amazon Sidewalk, the shared neighborhood network that Amazon opted to enable by default earlier in the year.
On the “weird tech” side, that could well be the rumored wall-mounted Echo touchscreen. Billed as being an in-wall smart home hub, it would help position Alexa as a key way of interacting with the connected home and IoT, if the rumors are to be believed.
After iPhone 13: The new tech coming in 2022, 2023, and 2024
Over the next few years, the iPhone will see some significant changes. This year’s iPhone 13 didn’t exactly make major waves when it came to upgrades VS last year’s model lineup. According to high-level Apple product predictions released this week, the changes will come in the years 2022, 2023, and 2024 in the form of punch hole front-facing cameras, under-display Touch ID, and foldable smartphones from Apple.
Notes from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo relayed by 9to5Mac suggested that the iPhone line released in the year 2022 would include two higher-end devices with a punch-hole display. Kuo also suggested that these devices would include a new 48MP wide camera, and would be joined by a new and “more affordable” 6.7-inch iPhone.
Kuo also noted the addition of an under-display fingerprint reader for the year 2023. This technology began to appear in Android devices over the last few years, but hasn’t yet matured to the point at which Apple has been comfortable releasing it on a release-level iPhone. The iPhone under-display Touch ID system is predicted to be a part of the iPhone 15 (or whatever it’ll be called) released in the year 2023 – or later.
The most massive change to the iPhone line comes in the prediction of a foldable device. Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that the “foldable iPhone” won’t be released until the year 2024. It is not yet known whether this foldable iPhone will be released at the same time as the traditional iPhone, what it’s price will be, or if it’ll actually truly ever be released at all!
ALSO NOTE: There’ll likely be a new iPhone SE coming in the year 2022 with expanded mobile data radio coverage. This means 5G support for said iPhone SE, likely appearing in the first half of the year 2022.
If you’re currently preparing to purchase an iPhone and want to wait for the newest possible device – you’re in luck, since the iPhone 13 will be available in stores on September 24, 2021. The release date is the same for iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, all coming on September 24th, 2021. Take a peek at comparisons between the iPhone 13 models and iPhone 12 and see what you make of them. Then stick around as we prepare to release our review of the iPhone 13 and beyond!
IKEA Sjomake makes DIY hidden wireless charging a $40 upgrade
IKEA is making it easy to hide wireless charging in your nightstand, desk, or coffee table, with the new Sjömäke wireless pad keeping its Qi out of sight. Unlike IKEA’s earlier charging pads, which slot into circular cut-outs in the tabletop, this new high-power pad is intended to hide underneath yet still allow for wireless charging through the surface.
In fact, IKEA claims, it should work just fine through tables and other worktops that are 3/8″ to 7/8″ thick, just as long as they’re not metal. The Swedish retailer includes double-sided tape for mounting it underneath, though there’s also support for screws or other fixings if you prefer.
Plug in the six foot long power cable, meanwhile, and then you have a discreetly hidden Qi charging pad. IKEA includes some stickers that you can optionally use on the top of the table or nightstand, so that you know whereabouts to position your phone or other device for best charging results. Or, you can leave them off altogether, and have the whole thing seem a little more magical.
The pad is a fairly uninspiring design, given it’s intended to be hidden from sight. It’s 1-inches thick, 7-inches long, and 3-inches wide. An indicator LED on the side shows whether or not it’s actively charging a device, though of course there’s a fair chance that you won’t be able to see that in day to day use.
Indeed, IKEA says that you really shouldn’t use the pad with a phone or other device without anything in-between. According to the user manual, there should be at least around 8mm between the two, presumably because IKEA has tuned the charging coils to take into account some sort of gap.
As for the charging rate, expect around 5W. Less, certainly, than you’d get from some of the other Qi pads on the market right now, but certainly sufficient if you’re leaving your phone to one side as you sleep or work.
Currently, the Sjömäke is listed at $39.99 on IKEA’s site, though it’s not yet available to order. The retailer confirmed to The Verge that it will be going on sale in October, both in the US and in other international stores, both at its physical locations and online.
This isn’t, of course, IKEA’s first flirtation with wireless charging. Back in 2018, the company ran a high-profile welcome campaign for the iPhone 8, highlighting how Apple’s addition of Qi support meant that the smartphone would now work with the Swedish company’s chargers that were build into tables, lamps, and more.
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