Generational Differences in Technology Usage
By Amos Kittelson
As technology changes and we adapt, we come to expect more of it.
Millennials, or members of Generation Y (ages 18-34), rely heavily on use of technological tools. Baby boomers (ages 51-69) may not be as familiar with certain technologies and simply may not have a desire to use them.
Generation X (ages 35-50) has seen technology improve very quickly but may get stuck trying to relate to both generations on either side of it. This has created a vast divide in how generations understand and relate to technology. Each generation interacts – or interfaces – differently with technology. (Scrolling on an iPad is an example of user interface – it is the way we use that technology system.)
Patients or staff members who are Baby Boomers may be slow to adapt to a new technology because they fail to completely understand its full capabilities. They may never fully embrace it or learn all that it can do. For the best experience, give baby boomers very basic user interface – no keyboard, no mouse, labeled buttons, touch screens with instructions. For best learning results, a user interface should offer user feedback while they interact with the device. Telling the user why the system is doing what it’s doing will help them understand it. A product manufacturer should incorporate user feedback when designing something new.
Millennials have grown up with technology that has been developed for optimal performance. It is very easy for them to reach out and have a conversation at the push of a button. Their user interface is simple, pleasant to the eye, and works well.
Generation X is accustomed to technology not working because it has been developed during their lifetime and they’re used to things not working well. This may cause them to overcomplicate technology. Gen-X exists between a tech-savvy generation and one that might not readily acclimate to changes in technology. Gen-X might adapt easily, but they try to learn the new technology while simultaneously teaching their predecessors. They become mediators, but they can only be good translators by understanding generational differences and thought processes.
Baby boomers and Millennials may be better able to relate to one another than Gen-X can relate to either of them. The communication barrier is low for both Millennials and Baby Boomers, even though their communication systems are different. Baby boomers want one simple solution rather than several options, and are slower to adapt. Once they do adapt, they’ll hold onto it. Millennials want to consume all forms of technology and readily try new technologies. Gen-X wants to know enough to have options, but without knowing too much.
The best user interface is no user interface. This means that having fewer – or no – barriers to operating technology will enable us to better utilize it. For technology to be used to its greatest potential, user interface must be simple and responsive. One of the simplest interfaces is one that is voice-activated – a device that can distinguish natural language. An example of this is iPhone’s Siri.
Experts can bridge that generational technology gap, allowing everyone to share technology and communicate more effectively and efficiently. Because there’s no “one size fits all” solution, system integrators can customize technologies to fit anyone regardless of position, personality, or generation. Combinations of technologies – sensors, touch screens, voice recognition – can be developed with user testing. Before implementing technology solutions, businesses should invite an expert system integrator to provide consultation.
More is expected of system usability and reliability than ever before. Regardless of who is learning a new technology, feedback will enable users to better understand their device and therefore maximize its capabilities.
Amos Kittelson is a Sioux Falls native, lifelong technologist, 17 year Air Force Veteran and
owner of Sidewalk Technologies.
When we press a button, if nothing happens after 7/10 of a second (700 milliseconds), we think it’s broken and try clicking again. A system’s response time must be very fast for people to accept it.