The consumers technology is leaving behind

In another two decades, India will have a sizeable population of older consumers. Yet, tech innovation ignores them

Founding Fuel

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Dear friend,

Age is catching up with India. According to the Economic Survey 2019, the share of elderly in India (60 years and above) will nearly double from 8.6% in 2011 to 16% by 2041. And some states will start transitioning to an ageing society by the 2030s. By other estimates, India will have 34 crore (340 million) people above 60 years of age by 2050—more than the total population of the US.

And yet, tech innovation ignores these consumers.

This was driven home on a recent muggy evening in Noida, as I waited for my turn at the neighbourhood ATM. An elderly gentleman ahead of me just couldn’t get cash out of the ATM—because the voice prompt was set at too low a volume, and the interface would reset because his responses calibrated to time out before he could respond.

It’s a problem of poor design rather than of old people not being tech-savvy.

I hear similar stories from friends. Of a father refusing to wear his hearing aid because, while it serves a function, its design makes him feel old. Of a mother who no longer uses her bank’s ATM because the interface has changed. Of inability to use modern conveniences like ride sharing, online booking, and other app-based services because they’re not designed for them.

Joseph F. Coughlin, who heads MITAgeLab, says, “There’s an expectations gap between what older consumers want from a product and what most of these products deliver, and it’s no frivolous matter. … If you believe that markets, given enough demand, tend to solve problems sooner or later, the gap’s persistence is uncanny: like a Volkswagen-size boulder hovering six inches off the ground.”

He goes on to suggest a solution: Gain insights into what they want—have young designers step into the shoes of older consumers and hire older workers. “Technologists, particularly those who make consumer products, will have a strong influence over how we’ll live tomorrow. By treating older adults not as an ancillary market but as a core constituency, the tech sector can do much of the work required to redefine old age.”

As I sign off this week, let me point you to a must-listen podcast with TriLegal’s Rahul Matthan, where he dwells on the trade-offs between innovation and privacy. These are global hot button issues. He says, “We’ve got to constantly be mindful of the fact that every innovation that we do, is likely to have good and bad consequences. And so long as we are aware that this is the case, and agile enough to be able to rapidly adjust our technology or adjust our innovation or adjust our policy … to reorient ourselves in the correct direction—that's when we will be successful in innovation.”

Have a great week!

Sveta Basraon

For Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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