Tech for the Non-Techy

As you may have learned from my Tweets, today I had a Lyft ride in one of the two cars in Boston with a camera perched on the roof to map out the city for autonomous driving.   My driver and I had a conversation about how Lyft is the best company for the autonomous car efforts because the company uses an open source platform, allowing other companies to use their ride data to help develop their own self-driving systems.  Lyft calls this “the most efficient way to bring your autonomous technology to market.”

When I first learned about Lyft’s open source initiative I was excited because this meant that companies developing autonomous vehicles would be able to do so much more collaboratively and efficiently, as these companies have the benefit of building off a foundationand enhancingthe work that has already been done.

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As a twenty-year-old near the peak of my life’s independence, the idea of self driving cars is very comforting.  As I have watched my grandmother’s amazement with Uber and her frustration with getting places from an assisted living home, I have begun to appreciate my independence exponentially more.  With autonomous cars as a reality, getting around will be one more piece of independence I won’t need to worry about losing as I age.

This got me thinking about all the ways technology has changed the game for the elderly population, and the ways that it will continue to do so as it becomes more advanced.  For example, something as simple as a Keurig has changed my grandmother’s life in a small but tangible way for her.  As she’s lost some dexterity in her hands, her Keurig has made her morning routine much easier, nearly hassle-free.  I personally have the capability to make coffee pretty easily, so I think of Keurig machines as a way to bring a marginal bit of convenience to my life.  But for my grandmother, it’s returning a capability and a bit of independence that makes a clear difference in her days.  An article in The Economists claims, “the greatest potential for improving the lives of the elderly lies in technology built for the young.”

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Applications of technology for the elderly population can make a more profound difference in their lives—literally.  My friends and I use the Find My Friends app on our phones to make sure we get home safely, but that same technology has been simplified and applied to Medic Alert necklaces, which has saved thousands of lives.  An even more advanced version of this has been discussed for inserting microchips in patients suffering from Alzheimers disease in case they “wander off.”  These chips could also collect medical information in case a patient ends up in the hospital, so that doctors can have more context for what has been going on in their day(s) prior to arrival.

As data analytics becomes more advanced, I would not be surprised if these microchips become commonplace for elderly people. It seems there are many existing technology platforms that have many of the components needed to make this a reality. For example, GE Digital’s main project is called Predix.  This system collects data on industrial machinery to predict when something is going to breakdown. This way, the machinery can be serviced in advance rather than the machine breaking down while in use (see the word play? Predix…Predicts?).  This is a much cheaper and more convenient way to manage equipment, an approach to maintenance that is also used making its way into the aviation industry.  Once this technology is perfected, if it were used for humans, it could greatly reduce the cost of healthcare and the number of surgeries and recoveries needed.


It will be interesting to watch how these technological applications for elderly use will expand and adapt to more tech-savvy generations, as millennials age and enter “senior citizenship”.  The elderly population right now grew up before computers or cell phones, so even if technology is available that could potentially be helpful, it isn’t usually user-friendly or intuitive enough for most of them to quickly adapt to.  My grandmother could greatly benefit from using Lyft, but she can barely use a flip phone, let alone a smartphone.  Her generation might benefit from using the Amazon Alexa to look up information if they don’t know how to use a computer – but even that has its own set of challenges (see this incredible skit from SNL for more on that).  Eventually, as the elderly population becomes more adept at using technology, harnessing features of Alexa such as turning on and off lights and other smart-home abilities will become more universal.

For now, I am cheering on Lyft so that they can have autonomous vehicles ready for me when I can no longer drive.  I can’t wait to hail that autonomous car from my nursing home!… well maybe I actually can wait.


  1. You have potentially two really good posts in here. You could have written one on your experience in the Lyft vehicle alone. You also could have done an entire one on tech and senior citizens. Both could have been fabulous on their own, as you have enough good insights in here to build on both.

  2. diewlun2 · ·

    Interesting post! My dad who is in his early 60s started using a smartphone last year. When I helped him set up his phone, I was at a loss when it came to determining what apps to download for him. There’s too much technological buzz that is centered around the younger generations and we tend to forget that times have changed and even the old have much to gain from technology. For instance, cognitive games that specifically target the elderly can help lower the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. There’s so many opportunities out there; companies just need to keep old people on the radar!

  3. sherricheng5 · ·

    This was really interesting to read! I’ve never thought about how technology affects the elderly generation. I’ve always just assumed that technology is less relevant for them because of the difficulties some older people may experience in learning how to use/adopt technology. However, you made some great points about the positive effects of technology on the older population. I think that as tech gets more advanced, more improvements can be made to improve the way of life for everyone, including the “non-techy”!

  4. lwennbie · ·

    My reading group was actually talking about the intersection between elderly care and technology this week with our reading about the sharing economy. We also thought there was a great opportunity here for both improving elderly quality of life and potential new markets for companies. My grandmother lives in Vermont, and my parents were really excited when Uber came to her hometown earlier this year. She is still driving, and really shouldn’t be: they thought this would be the perfect transition time. But it is hard for her to use a smartphone. I think that finding easy ways for elderly people to use the latest technology, through adapting the interface on already existing products, would be a great way for both “entities” to win!

  5. Catherine · ·

    Companies should capitalize more on this opportunity of using already existing technologies to really make a positive impact on the lives of the elderly. A change in marketing strategies could mean a significant increase in incremental revenue. Adapting or simplifying the user experience could be all it takes for older people to get on board and benefit greatly.

  6. Hilary_Gould · ·

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology can improve the lives of older populations. My recently widowed grandpa is now living by himself for the first time– unfortunately he is not (at all) tech savvy. He can’t drive at night and it’s questionable if he really should drive at all. He’s taken Uber a few times when we have called it for him and he has had a positive experience, but unfortunately he doesn’t have a smartphone and struggles to use his iPad. There are so many amazing services (ie snow shoveling, food delivery, instacart, etc), but unfortunately he is unable to use these services. Definitely something that could be capitalized.

  7. briandentonbc · ·

    This is a really awesome post. I particularly thought the section about what technology is doing for the elderly was incredibly interesting. I had never thought about what our technological advances today might mean for our lifestyle in the future. My Grandmother recently had to give up her car as she was no longer fit to drive, and it has caused her to have a severe lack of independence. It is interesting to think about the fact that we will have several less hindrances than our older generations have had, and to speculate on what else could be developed by the time we all reach an elderly age. We all thing of tech as young and innovative, but the assistance it has and will provide older people will be very interesting to keep an eye on going forward.

  8. cgoettelman23 · ·

    Great article!!! I absolutely want to learn more about how Lyft is mapping our city for autonomous driving. It’s so cool that you had the random great luck to ride in that car! I wonder how long it’s going to take them to feel confident in their maps to begin to implement autonomous driving.

    I had never thought about how our technology improves the lives of the elderly until I read the latter part of your blog. I had never noticed how my grandparents love their smartphones and Keurig until your post opened my eyes to it. I had suggested that they invest in a Keurig just because of it’s broad variety of coffee flavors without grinding the beans at a coffeeshop/grocery store. My grandma raves about it all the time, but little did I know that it can help make her life a little big easier as she develops arthritis. Great insight, and great post!

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