Wired At Any Age

As an early adopter, bleeding edge technologist and consumer experience consultant, I’m in a lot of conversations about how technology is impacting the future of retail. I think I have a unique viewing point for a number of reasons. Not only am I a demographic/psychographic outlier for most digital trends but I also provide IT support for my 97 year old father. Yesterday, he asked me to make sure his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts were up to date and that he could login with no trouble when I wasn’t there to help. So, we worked on that for an hour or so, updating friend requests, replying to old messages, posting new photos. Thinking I was done, I started packing up when he said, “Did you get Twitter working, too?” No, I hadn’t because I don’t even tweet so I didn’t imagine him doing it….but then I did.

Scientist at work
Scientist at work

So, once again, the DNA runs true. My nonagenarian pater wants to be “cool” and ‘in the know’…just like his soon to be septuagenarian filia wants to be. And, we both baffle the customer service professionals who attempt to help us in places like Best Buy or the Apple or Microsoft store. They take one look at the two “Q-tips” and want to send us to the flip phone aisle. That is until we show them our Microsoft Bands, synched to our Microsoft smart phones and the Jetpack hotspot in my purse. Still, it’s hard for them to wrap their heads around how these non millennials could want to have so much tech. That’s because they don’t know my Dad is actually a rocket scientist…well, not quite…but he was part of the team that brought radar to the Brits during WWII so we could break the blockade. And, I grew up bringing films of Saturn rocket lift-offs and parts of satellites to grade school for ‘show and tell’. Plus, we both traveled for business and know how important tech is to road warriors.

Just a typical evening…

Responding to an Facebook Ad from Verizon, I just upgraded my FIOS to 300Mbps from 100. The Verizon tech seemed a little surprised at who answered the door when he arrived to install the new service and kept asking me if I was sure that was what I wanted. I’m used to that by now—they look and see a “cute little old lady” so both age and gender bias click in. I assured him I knew what I was doing and that my goal was to be as ‘virtual’ as possible after nearly 40 years of travel. In fact, I was hoping he’d get everything up and running before the online class I was teaching at 6:30 that evening. After a few hours, he got a better idea of who he was dealing with and the realm in which I operate. However, his bias cropped up again when we did the Verizon Speed Test and I didn’t get 300 Mbps. He said that it really works better if your ‘wired’….which I knew but it was irrelevant. To make the point, I picked up my HP Spectre notebook and turned it all around looking for a jack for a network cable. I then showed him all the wireless devices that I use all throughout the day, from my Amazon Echo (two plus a Dot), Hue lights, Nestcam, Nest thermostat and alarms. He was impressed! And, I saw that  he had radically revised his idea of who he was dealing with….

I AM  a bleeding edge technologist. I was raised by a bleeding edge technologist…the first TV in the neighborhood, the first 8 mm home movie camera, centralized home sound system, central AC…and that’s just what was happening in the 50s! Part of being the first to try new technology is the sheer fun of it, and after the fun, there might actually be a competitive advantage to having the latest gear. I can hardly remember life without a computer that I took on the road. My first “luggable” in the 80s was so big I had to drive to my out-of-state clients or buy a seat for it on the airplane. The next one was a ‘clamshell’ and small enough to travel in an overhead compartment but it was almost as big as carry-ons today. So, as you might imagine, I delight in having a smart phone in my pocket or a tablet in my purse, both of which have greater capability than any of my early Toshiba notebooks…as impressive as they were!

With Dad on his 90th
With Dad on his 90th

And connectivity!!! I can’t believe how much research and development I actually did with dial-up modems, 2400 baud…yikes, the time it took! Yet, we didn’t know any better so it was wonderful, amazing technology. I still remember when I discovered I could use SPSS on my desktop, the same statistical software that was on the minicomputer at the university.  All the while knowing that when I was in graduate school we didn’t even have calculators for our statistics, the only option was manual calculation (unless your research  was important enough to get time on the mainframe, and mine wasn’t.)

And then there’s THE CLOUD! OMG, I love the Cloud! And, Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft OneNote…all of which keep me organized with no ‘version control’ problems like I used to have with my assortment of jump drives, network drives, desktop vs notebook drives….now I just source everything from the same place, The Cloud. I grew up reading fairy tales with magic kingdoms and graduated to science fiction in my teens, so I have no difficulty imagining this virtual storehouse of treasures. I love having access to everything no matter what device I’m using, whose brand it is, or who provides the service—it just doesn’t matter any more. This is the new reality…I don’t care where it comes from as long as I have it the way I want it when I want it. If you can make that a reality with little hassle on my part, I’m your customer.

And then there’s “One Click”, the Amazon-trained customer. That’s me! Amazon has almost all of my business because they understand that the two most important resources for me are Time and Energy…Money is important but not as competitive as the other two, more limited, resources. Amazon has been training me since some time in the mid 1990s… can’t even remember when I didn’t use Amazon. Of course, it started with books and stayed that way for enough years for me to have total confidence in the integrity of Amazon. Then, they started adding music and video and everything else….and made it easy with one-click shopping and free shipping for Prime customers. It was all wonderful….and then they introduced Echo!! I went from a very satisfied and loyal customer to a raving fan!! All it took was for them to exceed my expectations with my wildest hope!

If you don’t know about Echo and Alexa, then you don’t know about the closest thing to Star Trek that I’ve experienced in my lifetime! I’ve waited decades to be able to say, “Computer, play Classical for Serious Thinking.” She can’t make me Earl Grey tea yet but she gets everything else right most of the time…and I think the tea is just around the corner. Alexa reads me books from both Audible and Kindle. She keeps track of my shopping list, answers Wikipedia questions, gives me a choice of news stations, music sources and turns on and off the lights. I recently got the ‘Dot’ so I could talk to her from my bedroom for controlling both the lights and the thermostat…no more chilly morning floors.

Alexa as I imagine her….

And, of course, Dad has Alexa, too. He loves to ask her to play the “San Antonio Waltz”, for toe-tapping and singing along. Don’t tell him but he’s getting Dot for Father’s Day…and then he’ll be able to play Willie Nelson from bed. He’s already been King of Amazon for years and learn something new every time I visit. He uses the internet for all kinds of research, most recently on anti-aging supplements. He’s going to buy Elysium Basis as soon as he calls them to ask if they think it will “do any good” at 97. We discussed the challenges of doing research to validate it’s effectiveness when the clinical trial needs to be at least 100 years…not much good for either of us so I guess we’ll have to trust the claims of Nobel prize winning MIT scientists. My approach after reading about it is simple, “can’t hurt, might help”.

Probably what I’m most excited about it the medical possibilities in the near future. I’ve already had a hip replacement and am scheduled for a knee replacement in the winter, so I’m hoping that we have an “Alexa” for all my implants. Ray Kurzweil really caught my attention when he wrote in The Singularity Is Near about if we could stay healthy without life-limiting diseases for the next decade, there would be all kinds of medical solutions available to extend life. But that’s only about the body, we still have to find ways to extend the sense of purpose and meaning when we no longer work all day, have an active family life, are striving to achieve goals. Being able to live longer but not able to find meaning and sources of wellbeing, is not a kindness. That’s why much of my study is in the field of Positive Psychology, the science of wellbeing. More recently, I’ve found the Integral Framework of Wake Up, Grow Up, Clean Up, and Show Up to provide the best overall understanding of what it means to be Fully Human.

I also watch enough post-apocalyptic video to know that we could blow it all up at any time. While I love the Cloud and all my technology, I know it wouldn’t take much to reduce us to a more primitive structure overnight. Life without electricity would mean no cellular communications, no internet, no connectivity and much more. Watching the polarization in our national and global politics makes me wonder if that reality isn’t closer than I had ever imagined.

Gratefully, I am involved in communities where we are striving to learn how to have different kinds of dialogue, to find ways to bridge our differences, to establish perspectives that are inclusive. Personally, I’ve been challenged to read an apply the work of the Arbinger Institute and Anatomy of Peace and practice “getting out of the box” and having a “heart at peace”. It will take some doing to get there as a permanent state but I am encouraged. It definitely is worth it to have a world worth living in. And, I still have a well stocked library should the Internet go down….

To stay up to date,  I subscribe to many feeds that give me info about trends. Two of my favorite online resources, Think with Google and PSFK give me a peek at emerging global trends in technology. This fascinating report just dropped into my Inbox…

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