Older Generations and Technology: It’s Not All About Age

Older generations’ relationship with information technology differs, in general, from that of digital natives – people who have grown up (or are growing up) with IT. Technological competence in the young is bewildering to older people. To young computer users, “dinosaurs” are a mystery.

He took the first 25 years off his CV and got a job

A highly skilled contract engineer in Boston, USA, had been looking for employment for some time, and with no success. When he realised that his age was working against him, he took the first 25 years’ experience off his CV. It wasn’t long before he landed a job.

Was there a bit of age discrimination going on? Well, obviously there was.

Is there any logic in age discrimination? In IT – yes, I think so.

But are the perceived shortcomings really to do with age? Or is this a generational issue?

In the tech world, grey hair and experience are really overrated”

These are the words of HubSpot CEO, Brian Halligan, in a 2013 New York Times interview.

It’s easy to pass off this kind of comment as ageist, but age discrimination is not that easy to identify, because age can make a difference to performance – unlike skin colour, gender, or sexual orientation. The same person will have different skills and attributes at 25 than they’ll have at 55.

Brian Halligan, who was 45 years old at the time of that interview, may have caused offence to many people. However, when you consider his experience in shaping a large workforce and seeing the results of productivity, he’s surely due some credit for knowing what he’s talking about. So, if Mr Halligan’s words were based on experience, what did that experience look like?

“They want it to be perfect”

Computers are unlike most other tools in that there’s an element of improvisation involved in using them. Forklift truck, airgun, food mixer, drill, microscope, etc have definitive operating processes. These processes can be learnt and remembered and taught.

When it comes to IT, people who didn’t grow up with computers often have a different mindset to those who did. When confronted by uncertainty, there’s a tendency to ask for direction. And to expect a definitive answer.

Sometimes, those of us who were introduced to information technology in adulthood have difficulty in grasping the fact that a more experienced technician might not be able to provide a solution. The concept of improvisation, when it comes to operating a tool that we don’t understand, jars against the type of common sense we grew up with.

A former non-executive director at Investors in People (the UK standard for people management) said of older people: “They want it to be perfect, while younger people are more willing to run with imperfect technology and just get on with it.”

By the age of three, a human being’s brain has developed to 80% of its adult capacity. At five years old, our brain has reached 90% development.

Perhaps only those who grow up with IT really subscribe to the notion that our devices are not merely tools. The lateral thinking and creativity traditionally reserved for problem solving must flow into our relationship with our IT tools. Because the line between task and tool is becoming less distinct.

So, let’s jump ahead to 2060, when technology has played a part in the early development of everyone up to at least 60 years old. In 2060, will a 55-year-old experience the same difficulties with technology as the Boomers and Gen-Xers are experiencing?

I don’t think so.

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Article produced for and on behalf of PCSimple by Folio Copywriting.

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