Technology perspective: kicking it old school

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My trips home tend to be part family catch up, part sociological and anthropological expeditions into the heart of Merseyside. I use this time to watch the way my parents and my friends use technologies.
Mum & Dad
On previous expeditions trips home I found that peer-to-peer networking had proved an unsatisfactory replacement for collecting and that sat nav devices where the second coming of the gadget Christ.

On the way home I saw a baby boomer couple from Runcorn deciphering their son’s Facebook page pictures and messages. This was fascinating as it came so soon after I had read a piece by danah boyd about social stenography. Unfortunately their son’s social code was easily cracked as they poked and prodded their iPhones. A call to the son ensued and the expression ‘busted’ came to mind.

My Dad’s current tech obsessions are digital photography and his home cinema set-up.
Rave Machine RIP
My parents discovered digital photography for themselves by accident when they needed to sell their old caravanette, so they used my cast-off PalmOne Treo 650 to take pictures of the van to help sell it. They also took some more shots of the inside for memories sake. Since then they have been taking pictures on a 1GB SD card I have given them.

The SD card had proved invaluable has my Dad had used it to show his friends images since they could load them on to their computers. But since I was home, they wanted to get prints so we took a trip to ASDA to get some prints made. I cleared off a significant amount of videos that were about 3 seconds in length, my Dad told me that the Treo would sometimes record the video ‘by accident‘ when he was trying to take a picture.

This gave some interesting moments:

  • My Mum asked me if we “could also get negatives because those computer things are always getting wiped all the time
  • When the computer kiosk needed to be rebooted my Dad asked me why didn’t they “make the computer properly” so it didn’t fail
  • “Why did the machine give you the prints from a slot and you only got an envelope for the prints when you paid for them?” – Both my parents viewed this as a customer experience FAIL because the prints didn’t treat digital prints with same respect that film prints got

Digital in their minds was something of impermanence and something that lacked quality that was probably partly due to design and partly due to a job poorly done.

On the way back home, my Mum asked me about my pictures that I put on flickr and why don’t I sell them to someone. I tried to explain the concept of creative commons and that my social media content was my ‘personal brand’, something that helped my career. My Mum didn’t grasp this, but my Dad did, putting it in these terms that ‘I guess if you see the job of a good tradesman, its the kind of person that you want to work for you‘.

I found out that they used the Treo 650 just for pictures. I found this surprising as I had originally thought that they would find the QWERTY keyboard useful for texting, now that their Motorola (V100) had finally given up the ghost after close on a decade of service. I had originally purchased the Motorola for my Mum one Christmas as she had found texting on her Nokia 3310 such a hassle. I managed to pass on an Nokia E61 a bit later on.
My Dad's smartphone collection

My Dad put it like this: “I tried learning the Treo, but it was inconsistent in the way you did things like for instance getting back to the beginning, and it was easier in the end to teach your Mum to use the Nokia (1100) than it was to use it“.
My Dad's smartphone collection

So I pushed him on the Nokia E61 and got: “Sure that thing is even more difficult than the Palm thing. It’s shocking difficult all together“.

Not exactly a Jakob Nielsen level of insight, but still a damning indictment on the state of user experience design. They both use the drug dealers handset of choice the Nokia 1100 as their current handset. This was given a begrudging ‘It’s alright‘. by both my parents.
My Dad's home cinema set upBack at home my Dad was quite happy that he’d managed to get a PlayStation 2 I had given him to play DVDs. He was also delighted with the Tevion Freeview box. He’d worked out that it had a signal strength meter and he had improved the signal and performance of it by tweaking and then replacing the aerial. It was less about whether he was able to get CSI Vegas and more about the joy that comes with tinkering whether it’s an old car on the drive or an invention in the garage.

A couple of younger work colleagues had taught him how to connect the audio channels of the DVD up to his mini system which previously played a collection of Jim Reeves and Chieftains CDs


  • Find ways to reassure consumers about the impermanence of digital
  • Write more stable software
  • Provide consistent user experiences
  • Provide user experiences that aid feature discovery
  • Allow product tinkering in the analogue | real-world realm
  • Is there any way of empowering real-world word-of-mouth customer support rather than just thinking about it in a marketing role
  • ASDA could improve the customer experience of its photo booths by attaching a box of envelopes for prints to the photo dispenser