I remember the first time my great-grandmother encountered a Game Boy. I was a child, sat on the sofa next to her with my head bent over the handheld device.
After a few minutes of curiosity, she leaned over to check whether I was alright. She was startled to learn that I was playing a game on the tiny console; she had been under the impression that I was simply captivated by the tinny electronic music being emitted by it.
If anything, the generational gap when it comes to technology has grown since then. A rapid stream of new products appearing on the market in recent years has left older generations trailing in its wake. Some few innovations, such as the user-friendly iPad, have been widely adopted across age brackets; the vast majority of the technology that enters mainstream consumption goes largely unnoticed by this demographic.
“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
― Douglas Adams, author
Bringing residents up to speed
The difference between digital natives and their analogue-focused ancestors is an educational gap, rather than one of ability. Often, older homeowners will be more resistant to smart technology as they will less likely to immediately appreciate the value of a more connected lifestyle.
Rather than assuming that such technology is not for them, greater effort should be made by architects, designers and installers to explain the benefits and ease of use that such innovation can bring to their lives. Showing how such technology can be used in practice, instead of discussing it in the abstract, helps to demonstrate the everyday benefits that come with smart home systems.
Linking the technology back to known user interfaces – such as remotes and iPads – can also make a huge difference when devising systems that veteran users can easily understand and utilise. Small details like customised engraving on keypads can make their function more apparent, while stripping down the control interface and replacing it with automation where this will make things easier will help the technology to meet the specific needs of the older populace more effectively.
A spectrum of lifestyle needs
The generational split doesn’t just apply to pensioners; there is a significant split in the home between parents and their children. Whereas those whose childhood fell before the advent of the laptop and the tablet will be more likely to consume TV in a more traditional fashion, digital natives are more likely to consume it via streaming platforms or other online services such as YouTube. Indeed, Google research has indicated that 18–34 year olds watch 50% more online video than television, which has huge ramifications when it comes to planning what technology is needed within the home.
When it comes to the very young, the digital native moniker is even more applicable. Children used to the interface of a smartphone or tablet will instinctively assume that all digital interfaces should be touch-enabled, while multi-touch functions, voice control and switching in and out of several apps to achieve multiple tasks are unlikely to faze them. Adult members of the household will be aware of such technology and willing to experiment with new systems, but will often prefer to stick to interfaces which ape those they have grown up with.
Building technology bridges
Inevitably, the home technology selected is often geared to the needs and preferences of a particular generation – usually the one that is footing the bill. Yet a sensitive approach to smart home technology can result in a connected residence that all inhabitants feel comfortable interacting with.
Whether this means the creation of special stand-alone areas (for example, a home office that is controlled separately from the rest of the house), ensuring that each family member can only access the systems they are supposed to use, or by making the control system easy enough that Grandma can turn off the lights when she comes around to babysit, it is eminently possible to build a smart home that meets the needs of everyone who will use it. Connected living can be for anyone; it just requires a little bit of forethought.