Gnomedex: Ronni Bennett

Started to work w/CBS and other places looking at the Internet – realized that all of the writing online anywhere about elder folks was about disease and death, figured she wasn’t ready to die yet so she ended up becoming a blogger advocating for technology and services for the elderly.

She did an experiment to try to help the techies understand what it’s like to be elderly Internet user – a few attendees donned garden gloves and thick eyeglasses and tried to type in a URL and read smaller, white-on-black and red-on-black type. A visible experiment of something we could have guessed but still might not think about.

The 55+ segment is the fastest-growing segment online, though it’s still comparatively small: there aren’t enough medical professionals in this space and there’s no plan to catch up, but we could build technology to help with monitoring – but only if elders can use the web.

65+ never used computers at work – sometimes family helps but she’s amazed by how many have learned how to use computers themselves. She hears about them when they email and ask for help starting a weblog – two months later they’re asking about CSS. In all cases, the physical interaction is always the problem. Why can’t there be an elder computer like the $100 OLPC?

Many of the questions were of the form “would help elders?” everything from iPhone-touch screens (which she’d never seen and asked “have you all seen one?”, prompting a lot of laughter) to the Presto (the printer that accepts emails). We then had a several-minute iPhone demo on stage, which went from “this is great” to “this is hard and I can’t stand it” in about 90 seconds.

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