Transgenerational technology: age, technology, inequality podcast

How would your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown periods be different if you had not had access to a smartphone or the internet? Would you have been able to work, study, or show evidence of vaccination status? Would you have been able to access online medical appointments, and would you have felt isolated from your family social circles?

The various implications related to this topic and similar issues have been explored by researchers Hannah R. Marston, Linda Shore, Laura Stoops and Robbie S. Turner their 2022 book Transgenerational Technology and Interactions for the 21st Century: Perspectives and Narratives.

In this episode, the authors expand upon the importance of conducting research that spans disciplines.  The discussion considers not just the inequalities experienced by previous generations but looks ahead to anticipate what technological matters future generations will have to contend with.

Speaker profile(s)

Hannah R. Marston is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a research interest in the field of videogames, digital health technology, gamification, and user experience, among others. Hannah holds a PhD in Virtual Reality and Gerontology from Teesside University, UK. Currently, Hannah is the principal investigator for the ‘Covid-19: Technology, Social connections, Loneliness and Leisure Activities’ international, multi-site project.

Linda Shore is a UX Designer/Researcher and currently works as part of the DHI (Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre) at Glasgow School of Art, Scotland. Her research areas include User-Centred Design approaches that explore perceptions and adoption of emerging wearable technologies by older adults and the impact of amputation/age related conditions on Quality of Life. Additional areas of research interest include service blueprint development for healthcare and transgenerational technology that adapts to users' needs. Linda is excited about the possibilities of technologies for the future and how these can enhance the worlds, lives, and experiences as we age.

Laura Stoops is the Impact and Evaluation Manager at Age NI, a charity that supports older people in Northern Ireland. Laura’s professional interests are using technology-based solutions to support older people or those with a disability and assessing the impact and evaluation. Laura holds a PhD (2011) in Computer-Based Assessment and Diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease from the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland.

Robbie S. Turner is a partner and founder of Spektrum Consulting, a Barcelona based management consultancy which operates in the Defence, Humanitarian and Aerospace markets. Robbie has military experience and experience of peacekeeping in war zones. Robbie’s business venture 4-Exforces was the very first dedicated recruitment company for ex-military personnel.

In this episode:

  • What does the term 'transgenerational technology' relate to?
  • How did the COVID-19 pandemic highlight inequalities between different generations and different groups of people?
  • What is the importance of inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research?
  • What are some implications of societal overreliance on technology/technologies?
  • What does a transgenerational technology manifesto include?

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Transgenerational technology: age, technology, inequality

Daniel Ridge (DR): Imagine if during the COVID 19 pandemic and lockdown, you didn't have access to the internet. Would you have been able to work, study or show evidence of vaccination status? Would you have been able to access online medical appointments? Would you feel isolated from your family or social circles? Most of us take for granted how easily we use the technology of our smartphones to conduct everyday activities, like banking and making appointments or even talking to the family. But there are segments of the population that have had a hard time adapting to the quick rate that technology has entered our daily lives. In fact, the COVID 19 pandemic highlighted inequalities between different generations and different groups of people in terms of the access to daily amenities through online platforms and technologies. The various implications related to this topic and similar issues have been explored by researchers Hannah R. Marston, Linda Shore, Laura Stoops and Robbie S. Turner in their 2022 book Transgenerational Technology and Interactions for the 21st Century: Perspectives and Narratives. In this episode, the authors expand upon the importance of conducting research that spans disciplines. The discussion considers not just the inequalities experienced by previous generations but looks ahead to anticipate what technological matters future generations will have to contend with.

So, I'd like to begin by introducing our four co-authors. First, we have Hannah Marston.

Hannah Marston (HM): Hi there. My name is Hannah Marston. I'm a research fellow at the Open University based in Milton Keynes, UK. My areas of interest are video games, technology wearables also looking from a gender and age perspective, as well as looking at how Age Friendly Cities and Communities are impacted by technology use.

DR: Secondly, we have Linda Shore.

Linda Shore (LS): Hi, everyone. My name is Linda Shore. I'm a design researcher at Glasgow School of Art as part of the DHI, which is digital health innovation and care center. I am a UX designer. My main research interests are the aging experience, wearables, emerging technologies, and speculative design.

DR: We also have Laura Stoops

Laura Stoops (LS): Yes. Hello everyone. My name is Laura Stoops and I'm Impact and Evaluation Manager at Age Northern Ireland. I have been out of the research field for a little while now, I've been in the voluntary sector for eight years. Prior to that, my interest would have been around technology and using technology to support people with conditions such as Parkinson's disease.

DR: And lastly, we have Robbie Turner.

Robbie Turner (RT): Hi there, I'm a partner and founder of Spectrum Group. We support companies that want to win and identify business with the UN and NATO. We support companies with classical consulting, staffing, logistics, and support. Through our not-for-profit wing, we do study and research for the EU, UN and NATO.

DR: Great, thank you everybody so much for joining me today. I think it would be a good idea to start by talking about some of the core themes of the book and the central term transgenerational technology. Hannah, would you like to begin?

HM: The conception of the book came back in 2019. And we signed the contract just before the pandemic occurred. So it's been, you know, a long journey, because of the nature of all that our expertise. And certainly, personally for me, I'm an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary researcher. And I think it's very important that whether you're from computer science, or social science, or even industry, you get some kind of overview of what literature is going on. I've read many papers over the decades where, you know, they're written by a computer scientist or a social scientist. And if you straddle different disciplines, you are forced to read papers from across the different areas that you're researching in. And a lot of work can be missed. So, for me, one of the aims of this book was to try and get the perspective of bringing research together. You know, if you are a computer scientist, and you're interested in technology, but you also recruit participants to test any products or services that you're developing, then hopefully, through our book, you'll be able to pick up other literature that you may have missed, but not only that, we've seen as we move into a post pandemic society, there's a lot of inequality, whether that's digital skills, digital literacy, health literacy, but also financial education. And that's not just adult education, but education starting in primary, junior schools, the communities that we live in, I live in Middlesbrough at the moment. And it's one of the most deprived areas in the UK, people in Middlesbrough. I mean, it's a great community. There's a lot of support a lot of people who are helpful. But in comparison to other areas, we don't hear much about deprivation or how, basically hearing about the statistics. So for me, one of the things was trying to showcase different areas of the country. I'm originally from the North, from Yorkshire, and much of where I'm from never gets a look in whether it's from being a part of research or even through media and other impact-related research. So throughout the book, we talk about different communities, and how those communities have come out of historical events, and integrated technology, and the community spirit from grassroot involvement, rather than taking a top-down approach.

LS: I think everything we design, everything we interact with, essentially, if it's designed with the, the human at the center of it, we can't forget that everything begins and ends with the human, the person, their experience, their interactions, their touchpoint, how they actually absorb and take that on. But more importantly, much as we may have looked, if you like, fairly close to home in terms of the UK, our research has actually spanned across the globe. And we have worked internationally, both in industry from Robbie's perspective, ourselves sometimes as consultancy. But from a research perspective, we have a now forward-looking view that begins, if you like, at home, but it has expanded beyond that to take on the international observation with I think that was part of where the transgenerational technology term came about was we were considering the future we were looking at things that were changing and working towards it. And I guess Hannah might even share a little bit about that too.

HM: My part, my background is Gerontology or Geron technology. And my PhD was in video games and older adults. And in the field of gerontology there's some fantastic work going on and has gone on. But my view, and my perspective, is whilst we should still continue to research, whether it's ICT interventions, or other types of work relating to current older populations, we do have to start looking at younger cohorts, cohorts such as Generation X, and the millennials. The reason why is because Generation X are going to be the next older cohort, and this population are very different to the Baby Boomers, to the silent generation. Many people in Generation X, and that usually is people down the bottom group of this cohort is 42 years old, they're familiar with technology, they use social media platforms, they use WhatsApp to communicate, to share images to share files, they do video game, many people in this group have grown up playing video games in childhood, back in the 80s and early 90s. And when Generation X start to come into being 60, and 70 years old, and unfortunately, no doubt, people have strokes and things like that. And they're presented with technologies and interventions to, to get them better to improve their lives, that they're not going to be up to the expectations of what Generation X will probably expect. And the reason why is because this group of people have grown up with technology, very different mindset to the baby boomers. And I believe and this is kind of partly how their transgenerational title came about was by starting to look at what Gen X want, what are they expectations, what do they need, then, as researchers and industry and stakeholder professionals and organisations, we can start planning and putting strategies in place for when this group do reach later life. And then it's not a shock to researchers. In higher education institutes. They're not going to be reinventing the wheel. And they can go and read publications and see what Gen X actually want.

RT: A couple of generations ago, you could really have got by without any one-to-one interaction with technology. And now everyone's daily lives, pretty much dependent on it. So paying your bills, paying your rent, booking doctor's appointments. So there's a built in experience with people today that they have those experiences or that interaction. And they will carry forward into their next phase of life, which is later life, with a good understanding. But there is, let's say, it won't be seamless. And it will need this type of research to knit it together to do that passage from one stage to the next. I think.

DR: I think it's interesting that you place your research in the context of the history and you begin your book by talking about the history of the telephone, which isn't something that I necessarily would have thought as something that would have immediately had a medical use. So could you talk a little bit about placing your research in its historical context, and maybe some of the examples that you give?

HM: When we've been talking about the book, I know, Linda, and I certainly, I would say we agree on this, whereby without the medical interventions and developments, over the 18th, 19th centuries, 20th centuries, even, we wouldn't be where we are today. But then, with those medical interventions, we do have a longevity problem issue. Many people are living longer, the statistics show that. I guess it goes back to what I was saying earlier on, whereby if you're an inter multidisciplinary researcher, or you're from just one discipline, understanding historical events can also impact a person, or communities’, perceptions and behaviours. So, in chapter one, we've written about the miners’ strike, which happened in 1984, 1985, in the UK, and where Robbie and I are from, was very much a mining area. And the factors, the political decisions, the decisions that the National Union of Miners made, all impact, and still impact, in today's communities. As I said earlier, that there's a lot of deprivation. But there's this skill shortage. There's generations of men who were found not to have jobs anymore. Many of the women were either on the picket lines, or they helped out in the community centers, putting food on the table for the children, and for the men who were on the picket lines. But it's about education as well. And one of the case studies that we talk about in chapter six is in a village called Grimehorpe, which, again, is a former mining village, and it's located in the county of South Yorkshire. And that has changed obviously, over the last 20, 30 years. And what we've tried to do, and Robbie you, you may disagree or agree with me with what I'm saying here. But what we've tried to do is show what happens in historical events, doesn't just go away a year or so, after they've ended, there's prolonged impact.

RT: There is a legacy where we're from reaching back to that, but I think an important point that you've made is about, let's say, when, in a transitional way, when all those people were stopped doing a particular thing. At that particular time, there is no infrastructure for re-skilling people on mass. And there still isn't to a degree, you know, it's like, once people start doing a particular thing, let's say their job’s outmoded in some way, by technology, is how do you then take those people and then re-skill them to do something else? And this is like, say something that, for me is a hot topic at the minute in terms of our staffing type business where everybody wants software engineers, everybody wants software engineers, and there's just not enough of them. So you're now looking at initiatives to re-skill people from other markets, industries jobs that you can see some transitional skills are things that they can apply to this new skill set. And, like I say, for me, that's why it's an important point that you made.

DR: Well, along those lines throughout the book, you explore inequalities or implementation and creation of new technologies for society. Do you think you can talk about some of these?

HM: There's many inequalities in society, there’s inequalities relating to age relating to sex, relating to social class, whether you're working class, middle class, upper class. With social class, you also get accents, which can also lead to some people maybe not reaching promotion, or not being offered employment, because even though they may have the right skill set experience, qualifications, your accent, even if it's tweaked, slightly, will still go against you. The inequality of financial income, whether you're part-time, full-time employed, or voluntary. We are coming into a post pandemic society, where technology played a very key and pivotal role in delivering education, delivering some kind of health care, health appointments, social connections. If you didn't have the infrastructure in your home, to have internet broadband, then you may have been socially isolated and lonely. Because you weren't--you didn't have the means to connect to friends and family through social media platforms. It's as simple as that. And that's an inequality.

DR: I believe Linda has something she’d like to add

LS: We do talk about the digital divide in the book. So it's not just, say, personal inequalities, it's also the challenges as were mentioned, by Hannah, as well, down to connectivity. So it's all very well to be provided with a device or a piece of technology. But if there's no connectivity, or not adequate technology, to support those interactions, that may also be an inequality. I would also add that personal beliefs and, I suppose social conditioning, can also bring about self-imposed inequalities, where people will have a sense of stigma about themselves, and therefore their esteem is affected and their beliefs and their contribution to society is affected, that, essentially, we're looking to encourage autonomy where people actually have that freedom and a sense of liberation, if you like, if they if they have felt a sense of inequality themselves.

DR: Laura, would you like to say something.

LS:  In terms of inequalities, a lot of older people that we work with, at Age NI, would talk to us about during the pandemic, obviously, so many aspects of society move toward technology use. So, for example, even going down to your coffee shop, maybe for a cup of tea, it turned into a scenario where people had to use their device to maybe order their cup of coffee, and anything they wanted from the menu. And really in a way that the latest some inequalities because as a result of that people who maybe were not comfortable or didn't feel they had the skill set to use technology, they simply turned away from that particular coffee shop. So it kind of limited their choices. So if you didn't have that level of ability and confidence to use technology, essentially, you weren't having the same experience as someone who could.

DR Hannah?

HM: With inequalities, and again, this is relating to the pandemic and digital access and ordering stuff in the shops or, you know, whether, certainly in the UK, you've got the track and trace system that was brought in. It just assumed, or Government assumed, that everybody had a smartphone. And everybody knew how to download an app and put details in. And there was no discussion about people who do not have a smartphone, how are they going to order a coffee, or do the track and trace. And even now, you know, certainly in the UK, if we go abroad, you've still to print off your vaccination certificates through the NHS app. And obviously, some people can do that on a laptop. Others choose to do it on their smartphones and just have the QR code and stuff. But again, it's making this assumption that everybody has the digital skills and knowledge to know what they're doing. And if they don't, then they've made the assumption that people can just ask maybe a child or a grandchild. And we briefly talk about aging without children in the book. And this is an area that's very under researched in the UK. And worldwide. When we talk about inequalities. We hear it in policies and government briefings where they just assume that everybody has a spouse or a child or grandchildren, and not everybody does. And if those individuals need to seek out assistance to download their vaccination certificate, and they don't have a spouse or partner or a child or a grandchild, who do they ask? What's in place to help those individuals? And certainly from some of the work that I've been doing this last 18 months or so on a project that is mentioned in the book called The Adaptec Access to Buildable Technology, we look at how older people the challenges and barriers that they face when accessing just simple pieces of technology such as a smartphone, the icons, for example, and what you don't hear about is people who are on fixed incomes, whether that's pension or in receipt of welfare, whether they're an older person, or a younger person. Everybody just makes this assumption that all young people have the digital skills and knowledge, where in essence, that's not always the case.

RT: Just from a social commentary sense, I think one of the only, or one of the rare positive elements you can take out of the pandemic, is that through necessity, it accelerated the digitisation of a lot of people, like hugely, you know, there's like, there's people that would never have Zoom called, there’s people that would never been doing FaceTime at certain age. Or they might never have done that in this last phase of life, or something. But out of necessity, as I mentioned, lots and lots of lots of people and businesses did, we'd call it digital transformation, and how to do interact with people in a particular way, how to then download apps, had to then get more familiar with their devices and stuff. So let's say looking at the silver lining of any situation, that was one definite thing that helped society, in a big way, the necessity and distance between people and the reliance on technology to bridge those gaps.

DR: I believe you mentioned it earlier, but you provided a case study in the book that was conducted with Age Northern Ireland. Can you tell us a bit about this and what the research highlighted?

LS: During August 2020 to April 2021, we carried out research and that was actually during the height of the pandemic. And actually during the first major lockdown in Northern Ireland. Now, what we did is we asked people to share their views through focus groups, and interviews, and also we generated a survey. We also connected with another charity in Northern Ireland called Mencap. And they work with people with a learning disability. So the idea of that really was, obviously, Age Northern Ireland, we focus on older people, as you would expect. And we wanted to gain another perspective of a different generation, because obviously, that's something we're looking at within our book. And really just to see were there any differences in kind of usage of technology, perspectives around technology, depending on the kind of generation that people came from, some of the kind of topic areas that we explored through the focus groups were things like intergenerational relationships. And interestingly, you know, a grandmother and grandson shared a lovely story around technology and how that was involved in their relationship, particularly through the pandemic, but also before that as well. So the grandson's perspective was the technology enabled him to just keep a better eye on as grandmother, you know, and make sure that she was safe, and well looked after. And the grandmother was happy, because obviously, she was able to get involved with games with her grandchildren, and contact them regularly and video calls and such like. So that was kind of an area of conversation that came up quite often in focus groups. One that came up quite heavily was around health and technology. I'm sure everybody will be aware that during pandemic, technology really took a much larger part in terms of healthcare and how you actually access it. Even now, you know, if you're having a doctor's appointment, it will generally be you will have to contact initially, and maybe it will be a video conference as opposed to face-to-face. So some of the key findings that we find really were kind of the benefits that people interpreted in terms of use of technology would have been things like increasing social connections, which you would imagine would be so and also talking to people who live further afield. So we had people talking about how beneficial was that they could actually see the faces of people they love that maybe live in places like Australia that are that are the other side of the world really from us. And it felt like they were in the room together and they could see each other's facial expressions, and it's a lot more real for them when they're able to communicate in that way. Also, a really interesting point that came up, which was something that I wouldn't have thought of myself was around surveillance in terms of farming. So for example, it was helping farmers so they could actually monitor their cows when they're calling, for example, also, people talked about how their spiritual needs during the pandemic. They were actually continuing to be met through technology. So people were able to actually join online mass, for example, and still have that spiritual connection with their congregation. In terms of the challenges that people shared with us, obviously, safety concerns came up an awful lot, now. When I talk about safety, it's things like obvious things like scams, you know, “what's going to happen to my information, when I put it into this device”, a lot of older people we talked about we're just unsure of the process. So once their information is out there, you know what happens with that information. But also, even in terms of using a device, they were afraid, you know, “if I press this button, am I going to absolutely break my computer, is a disaster gonna happen?” So they have that level of fear, as well also people talked about, they can understand why you would use things like a smartphone, because obviously, you know, we're communicating with others. But when we talk about smart devices, you know, devices a bit like, where you would use voice activation to carry out a task. So an example might be turning on your light bulb, by an app, or voice activation, a number of older people talked about how they felt that that would label them as lazy in some way, there was that kind of feeling of, you know, technology has its place. And if they can see the importance and the practical application of that, then they, they were behind it, and they see the benefit. But I think for some people, that step further of smart devices was just not in keeping with how they wanted to live their life. And they wanted to keep themselves active, as opposed to using a device for those types of activity. In terms of, then, our survey, as I say it was carried out during the pandemic, and it had to be entirely online because of that. The average age of respondents for that were aged 53 to 62. And one of the most commonly reported activities that people carried out during COVID was connecting with friends and family virtually. So I think that really does highlight just how important a role technology played during the pandemic year to help people keep those family and friendship connections go in. Another really interesting part of I suppose, getting involved with this book, you know, from Age NI’s perspective, was that it came at a time when older people that we interact with were telling us that they felt that their voice was no longer being heard. You know, things were really uncertain, there was so many changes going on because of the pandemic. And as a result, decisions were being made a vital to people on their behalf with the ability to consult with them, and therefore they were losing that sense of having a voice. And really having the opportunity to meet on a regular basis to carry out these focus groups via them meant that they were getting their voice back and they were actually sharing their views and influencing research, you know, really meaningful work. And a lot of people shared that that was a really valuable thing for them just the process of even being involved in this book.

DR: I know that you end your book with a manifesto, rather than a traditional conclusion. Perhaps Linda, you could take this question, can you explain why you wanted to approach it in this way? And talk us about some of the key points about your manifesto.

LS: When we think back to 2019, and we were devising what would this book look like? How would it work out? We also had a sense of democratisation of information as well. And we had a sense that we'd like to give something back as part of the book project and what we were doing. But it was very much a driven, intentional thing. And that we should actually have some kind of a call to action or some kind of a tool, or something tangible that would stand up as an output from the book that people could, for example, view a PDF that would summarise a lot of what was stated in the book, but actually use it as a call to action as a purposeful and intentional thing from a designer and innovation perspective--these would be some kind of guides, I suppose, based on findings in the book, it really was a collective effort, because the four of us come from very different backgrounds, both professionally and relatively personally as well. And we brought them in, you know, our feelings or our sense of it, we think about, for example, point one on the manifesto. So the manifesto itself has 12 points on it. The first one talks about the chronological age. So sometimes relying on somebody is aged a particular age, for example, 65 they're perceived or expected to behave a certain way. They may be generalised in terms of how they approach or work with technologies. And a lot of that may not be true at times, and you may find that people a lot younger, may actually have different interactions, or more, I suppose stereotyped to what we expect from a 65 year old, so it was really to state those differences, and also to clarify it as well, in a very succinct way. So these 12 points in the manifesto, but from a perspective of the book, the book didn't feel like “oh, we just conclude on the book”. So the final chapter was never going to be a conclusion. It needed to be that manifesto to generate an action to generate that activity and that energy and to raise that awareness, that actually, there's a lot more to consider, and how we actually state that clearly, very succinctly in a little tangible artifact such as our transgenerational technology manifesto

HM: I agree with, obviously, everything Linda's said, these days, academic books need to be accessible not just to academics, but to people who we are writing about, to stakeholders, to industry, to policymakers. And, having a very dry conclusions chapter, whilst there could be very important information in there, I do feel and believe, having this manifesto in the way that we've set it out, would facilitate readers to, you know, go to it and say, “Okay, let's try and do,” or “we need to do X, Y, and Z”. And I do feel that it would be nice to see texts in the future been a bit more punchier, you know, a bit more accessible, and kind of been disruptive. There's too many books and texts that play it safe. Certainly in the book we haven't kept to the norm. We've brought together various disciplines. The four authors are very different individuals, different experiences, expertise, we've brought together eight chapters, that I feel, that there's something for everybody. So if you're an early career researcher, and you want to understand a little bit more about the research environment, you can go to chapter seven. If you want to understand about Age Friendly Cities and Communities, you can go to chapter four, if you want to get a very quick tour of different types of technology, and wearables for over the last 30/40 years, that's chapter two, and so on. So I guess in a way, the way we've presented the manifesto in Chapter 8, and the way we've structured the whole of the book, whether you're just an academic, maybe working with a person from an organisation, or somebody who is a co researcher, like Laura spoke about in Age Northern Ireland, I do feel that this book is accessible, but som--a person can pick up and just put down and read and be able to take bits away from it. I would also say that we feel this type of book is something that is, will still be accessible and pertinent in 10, 20 years time, obviously, things change, and specially from a technology perspective. But given what we've presented in the book, both Robbie and Laura have written sections about their respective organisations and collaborations. And we don't always see that in academic literature, and I think that its important to.

DR: Go ahead, Linda.

LS: We also I suppose exposed parts of our vulnerabilities as professionals as well, that when we undertake research, perhaps the emotional impact of that, the effect of that almost to normalise that actually sometimes part of the journey, particularly relating to qualitative research, or research in the field, where we are very, I suppose, closely engaged with people, and hearing and observing their worlds and their lives, even from a design anthropology perspective. But we're also expressing an offering those reflections to, I suppose, offer the normalisation of being human as a researcher and revealing that empathy. And I think that empathy is revealed throughout the book as well, that we've remained connected despite the technology despite considering speculative or future designs, that we haven't forgotten about the human or the empathy required to actually ensure that the user centered design process is met as well.

DR: Thank you guys so much for joining me today. I'm really excited about this book.

LS: You're welcome. Thank you. My pleasure. Thank you very much.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about our guests, and a transcript of the episode, on our website. I'd like to thank Chloe Campbell for her help with today's episode, and Alex Jungius of This is Distorted.

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