I recently had the experience of setting my dad up with a new computer (Happy Birthday Dad!), and it gave me a fresh appreciation of just how many challenging cognitive and motor skills are required for achieving the simplest goals in a computer environment (not to mention the whole conceptual framework).

Just a few of the factors that make this so hard:

  • Computers and the web have become sales channels.
    • I bought a relatively inexpensive HP from Circuit City, a fine machine for his requirements. But it comes loaded with startup links that attempt to sell you more software.
    • He uses Yahoo Mail to read email through a browser: but the browser window is cluttered with branding and advertisements that make it challenging to visually parse the page and differentiate his content from what they’re trying to sell him.
  • Constant change. The browser came preloaded with the Yahoo Toolbar, and almost as soon as he started using it, they wanted to push an update to him. This generates more dialog boxes he’s never seen before, more questions he doesn’t know the answer to (and doesn’t even care about), all for some feature he’s never even used! I uninstalled the toolbar right away.
  • Layer upon layer of complexity and foreign concepts: the desktop and folder metaphor, overlapping windows, menus, toolbars, system trays, special function keys, the list goes on and on.
  • Overcrowding: the economics of the mainstream computer market favors more, newer features. That means cramming more keys on the keyboard (with smaller labels that are hard for seniors to read), more icons on the desktop so functionality is “at your fingertips” (whether you need it or not), and cluttered interfaces.

Certainly those of us with professions in IT, or even doing office work, need newer technology that’s extensible. But there’s an enormous number of folks who really just need simple access to the web and email, without all the complexities of managing their technology refresh, and that’s about it. These aren’t the people that computer or software makers target (they’re not good candidates for upgrade sales, for one thing), but there’s a real opportunity there.