/2020chronicle

The technical challenge of putting Boomers in charge.

I’ll start by acknowledging this is going to be one of the most contentious posts I’ll never privatize. We have a new age problem, which is an old age problem. It’s not specifically the age of Boomers creating this problem, it’s their lack of abilities with modern technology.

Regarding the recent technical issues surrounding the Iowa caucus vote totals Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica reported,

“From a malfunctioning smartphone app to a barely staffed IT help desk and a key party official not knowing how to use a Google spreadsheet, plenty of problems turned the process of calculating and reporting caucus results into a laughingstock”.

This is not trivial, we are entering a period of consequences.

The implied and often vocal retort to any accusation of limited technical skillset or knowledge gaps found among most Boomers is they don’t need to understand. There was even a prevailing 2014 argument that Boomers do understand, they just don’t want to let the rest of us know because then we won’t do [digital tasks] for them. Truth is many Boomers harbor a belief their accrued common sense and speculative knowledge will allow them to adapt to technical challenges as necessary. This is not true as most technology does not allow for any theoretical, hypothetical or out of context use without error. Meanwhile often the simplest instructions offered to the 65 and over set go ignored because of lack of interpretation, purveyed as supposed over complication. Complicated, in this context, is usually synonymous with misunderstood.

We are in transitional times where most of Generation X and later now accept digital technology, social media, password management, online banking and other technologies as routine in life. Meanwhile we are handing electronic devices, legislative decisions and even adjudication responsibilities to the last generation to insist on writing checks at the cash register. What could go wrong?

The Iowa caucuses are what can go wrong. Do we really need the tallying of vote totals disrupted because someone doesn’t know how to run Excel? In Iowa over 94% of poll workers were over 65 years old. Do we need to hand barely tested mobile apps to people bused in from the local Senior center who’ve volunteered to run the polls? No, we don’t. As long as the oldest generations among us are the ones trusted with organizing our voting places how about we leave the technology on their level? Gen X can handle the smart phone tallies in a decade or two when we’re bored on Tuesdays and looking to fulfill our civic duty.

In our present digital, generational transition looms a larger problem: security. It was just released that the Department of Justice is charging Chinese state actors for breaching Equifax in 2017. Our legislators don’t know how to respond. They don’t know what steps to take because even when empowered by those considered top technology consultants in the sphere of government service they don’t understand. Worse there’s very little admission of their misunderstanding. Only answers implying that they know more than we think. They don’t. Find me just two Boomer legislators who know what an X12 document translation set refers to. Many would claim they don’t need to know, implying their transcendental knowledge is all that’s required to understand conceptually in order to render their opinion or verdict. It will not.

In time younger legislators and lawmakers will rise in numbers until eventually we have a moderate number of decision makers who understand and most importantly accept fast changing technology as part of our daily lives. Acceptance is a key factor in this adjustment because not only have many of our wise, aged legislators and judiciary not learned the true depth of technology used in our businesses and lives, they haven’t even accepted it as the new normal. Therefore many insist they are too busy to be bothered with cumbersome, unnecessary technical details. They aren’t. It’s 2020. Understanding technical details matters.

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