Interview/chat with an 85 year old retired male / Interview distilled from extensive conversation. Observations at the end of this post.
What is the first information technology you remember using?
Answer: Riding in a car
Discussion: Basic overview of information technology explained. (Note: In introductory discussion of the interview a clear definition of what is meant by information technology would have been helpful before starting.)
New Answer: When I was working for juvenile detention facility as a teacher in the 1980’s , we had a class on using a computer to keep records. The instructor was unable to make it work, and had to leave. When we got the program later it tended to ‘lose’ the information and was not reliable. It was clear from further conversation that early Information Technology was perceived as cumbersome and unreliable.
What information technology do you own and use? TV and Cell phone. This led to a discussion about smart phone vs cell phones. New Answer: Smart TV and Smart phone. More discussion revealed he also has a computer (laptop.)
PHONE SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
What kind of smart phone is it? Apple, at least I think it is, there is a picture of that on it.
Why did you choose this phone? It was part of a plan – this was the upgrade. Elaboration: It was provided by a family member as part of their plan and given to the interviewee with a case. It was set up by multiple family members, mainly one son in law.
What functions do you perform on your smart phone? Phone calls and looking up phone numbers. I use it as a personal phone book. He then looked at his phone and added these uses: Weather report, Map, Calendar, Photo storage, clock, calculator “it simplifies math” and compass. Upon prompting, he added that he does text a little.
Upon further questioning: “I get information from Google” an estimated 3 times a day and take pictures “once in while.” He mostly receives pictures, “moving pictures as well as stills,” and keeps in touch with his family this way. He can sometimes attach pictures to his texts but not reliably. He can sometimes take pictures, but not reliably and cannot store photographs sent to him. He uses Facetime once in a while but is not too comfortable with it, and usually needs help.
What do you like most about your smart phone? Convenience, protection/security – “safety tool in case I fall”
What don’t you like about it? “Finding information on Google,” “Information overload on Google” “It’s hard to get a quick answer, you can get miles of answers.” Added: Communication has improved so much it is hard to keep up with it.
SMART TV SPECIFIC QUESTIONS:
Interviewee watches multiple news channels for information and watches a lot of entertainment TV also. Really enjoyed talking about the TV and how far it has come. Really difficult to keep this on IT as a main topic.
Volunteered: “Very happy with that,” “TV has gotten so good and so advanced hard to imagine it getting any better” Other than: “they don’t have local sports, which kind of pissed me off and they have too many other things on there that I am not too interested in, see all the channels they have, it takes me 15 minutes to go through and find all the shows I don’t want to watch.”
What kind of TV is it? Unknow (this interview was being conducted in from the said TV that was muted.). Turned on bright lights and made another family member read the label on the TV set and together they came up with the answer ‘Vizio.’ This took some time, and they seemed a little unsure if that was the correct answer.
What does a smart TV do? “Unlimited channels and up to date programs” “they are timely. meaning you can watch them on your schedule.” Note: Local cable features are seen as part of the smart TV features. Smart TV features are accessed and used by other members of the family on behalf of the interviewee, he is unaware of how they function and unable to use them himself.
COMPUTER SPECIFIC QUESTIONS:
What kind of computer do you have? “I don’t know, I bought it for company, people want to use it, I’ve never turned it on.” Interviewee also has a printer for the same reason, is not able to use that either.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY QUESTIONS:
Which new information technology have you found most helpful in your life? Television – “It fills in a lot of blank time for a retired guy.” Questioning revealed that he watches news and Bill Maher and gets his football results on his TV.
What about information technology do you find to be the most annoying? Texting instead of talking to the group around them.
What is greatest challenge in using technology for you? Becoming expert in its use. (see observations below for additional observed challenges.)
How do you approach that? Take a break and wait for the expert (this is the previously mentioned son-in-law) to come in and do it for me.
How do you solve IT problems? Give it previously mentioned son-in-law who straightens it out, “just like tonight on the TV set” by which he means the cable box.
Have you ever used your phone to solve a problem? “Lots of times… to find the costs of things… communication for information… called for help when my hip out…” More complex problem solving isn’t done.
When asked his overall impression of information technology as he understands it:
“I like it now better – it’s a hell of an improvement, like in early 50’s, predictions so far beyond that…” “Back then it went into the 3 channels, you had to have a screen in front of TV, 13 settings 3 worked such a poor picture, now look at this oh my god” as mentioned before the interview was taking place in front of TV with mute on.
First TV sat on a box like radio with thing in the middle, Impossible to get a picture this good. Finally catching up to where it said it would, double the ability of information so fast it is impossible to catch up, lot of places are so far behind its no use to have it. Upon questioning he elaborated that this would be remote tribes etc.… and our poor areas. Concluded the interview here.
OVERALL IMPRESSION A RESULT OF THIS INTERVIEW:
The interviewee has some basic information technology skills. His view and interest in learning IT skills seems partially colored by the complexity and unreliability of his early experiences and partially set by not being interested in how things work in general. He exhibits a willingness to accept the usefulness without desiring to understand any of the underlying function, which severely restricts his ability to use IT. He approaches it more like driving a car but not knowing how it works.
He is able use IT concepts to find some basic information through SIRI/Google by using his smart phone. NOTE: Having helped with some of the early learning curve on this, the initial period of use was complicated by him greeting SIRI and introducing himself to her at each encounter. He doesn’t relate to computers as algorithms working independently of humans. My impression was reinforced by overhearing a computer call in which the interviewee had an extensive and frustrating conversation with a computer. He can articulate the difference, but is patterned to respond as if it was a human if it has a voice.
When asked about how he searched Google for information, he understood that you search by the name or “whatever you are looking for.” He understood some of the basics of keyword searching but not in any detail.
In the realm of intellectual capabilities, he is able to use IT to solve some very basic information needs but not to solve a problem of any complexity. He was able to call for help when his hip went out, so he was able to solve a problem but it was not by applying IT but by using IT.
In interviewing an older person, I would budget a lot more time and more follow up time also. Some of the basic definitions for questions are not understood and I needed to rethink some of the questions in order to ask follow up questions that could be understood and answered. I think if I were to ever design a large scale survey, it would be helpful to do trial runs on my chosen age group to refine questions prior to beginning, since the survey would need to be consistent in questions and response. A basic clarification of what is meant by my core terms, in language understandable to the interviewee would also be helpful as well as challenging.
After this interview, I wonder if a reason digital immigrants are less knowledgeable and enthused about IT is that they experienced a long and formative adult period where a large investment of time and energy resulted in a small payoff in IT usefulness at best (at worst there was a net loss in efficiency and time savings.) Maintaining enthusiasm for learning and growing with IT took a level of vision and enthusiasm that would not be logical for the average human. If you go to the same store for ten years and it is painful every time you shop there, you are likely to never want to go there again and have any mention of the store bring up negative emotion and reaction. Older digital Immigrants have a lot to get over, I feel more positive about the steps they do make after this interview. They were promised Buck Rodgers and instead given two hours of 1s and 0s that resulted in the outline of a rocket ship lifting off (most of the time if the computer didn’t crash) no wonder it didn’t set their world on fire, that would have necessitated a grand vision and optimism that most people don’t possess.
An observation, not elicited through the interview but observed during it, is that manual coordination, dry fingertips and slow reaction time make some functions impossible to perform reliably and leads to further frustration and unwillingness to engage. An example is the interviewee’s Smart TV source menu that timed out when he was observed using it. The time it took to read, understand and react with a physical movement was too long to accomplish a switch from one source to another before the function timed out and the choice was ‘lost.’
I wonder also if a mechanical world viewpoint, with definite ‘on and offs’, makes it harder for digital immigrants to gain comfort in a digital world that includes loading delays and processing time. With the already difficult dry fingers and lower coordination it may be easy to just assume it ‘isn’t working’ and needs to be poked again, and again, and…