If there’s one thing that we have learnt from the pandemic, it’s that technology is there for all of us, and can help all age groups. Despite the advertising focus on youth, much of the growth of Zoom, WhatsApp, etc. during the pandemic came from their adoption by the retired population. Imagine a pandemic without technology, where contact was restricted to phone calls and letters – now that would have been miserable.
Many of us have learnt to use technology to communicate better and more frequently, and I expect that video chats and WhatsApp messaging will continue once everything goes back to normal. But are there other ways in which technology will benefit the retired over the coming years?
The clever people at MIT (the Michigan Institute of Technology) think that technology will help us to improve our later lives. Their Age Lab has come up with a number of ways that technology will improve older people’s lives – some are down to earth, and some sound a bit crazy (but if I’d have suggested, ten years ago, that grandma would have been video-calling her grandchildren …).
The increase in life expectancy has meant that we have more retirement to deal with than previous generations. That means devoting more effort to keeping our brains sharp; in the USA, universities like Stanford and Harvard have launched programmes targeted at those in later life and the concept of a return to university following retirement is beginning to gain traction. Of course, universities are faced with a declining number of younger students and need to change their own business models. In the USA, the idea of a “post-work gap year” is gaining ground (It doesn’t involve lugging a heavy rucksack around sweaty youth hostels!).
Technology is reducing social isolation in other, surprising ways. 10% of AirBNB hosts are over 60, and opening your home to a variety of travellers is one way to stay connected. There is an increasing percentage of Uber drivers who have retired too – joining the gig economy to earn some pocket money, whilst making a social connection.
Technology is also simplifying many tasks that used to be tough in later life. Now you can order your shopping and get it delivered to your home – no need to struggle to and from the shop on a bad day. Don’t fancy cooking today? Deliveroo and Just Eat provide a simple solution (it seems odd that the modern version of Meals on Wheels has targeted its marketing at the young!). Websites like Local Treasures (www.localtreasures.me) and TaskRabbit give you access to trusted, experience handymen to do a range of tasks (from putting together a flat-pack table to decorating the kitchen). And, of course, robots can now do your hoovering and mow your lawn.
Technology is providing us with ways to have a more fulfilling retirement, and, so far, it has done so almost by accident. I expect that, partly as a result of the pandemic, many businesses will be waking up to the potential market for technology that benefits the retired, and that, in the coming years, we’ll see more deliberate innovation and progress which will benefit older age groups.
Philip Wise | firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing Director and Chartered Financial Planner