Is UX design failing our middle-aged users? A reflection article
A reflection article on how the “good intention” features have morphed into a hazardous feature that threatens the user’s wellness, beliefs, and even our political environment and reflects how the UX design is failing one of our most vulnerable digital users: The middle-aged super digital users.
Digital features like Facebook or Instagram like buttons, push notifications, and AI suggestions were created to have a good intention and positive impact on users. It was supposed to offer them a better quality of life in strengthening the users’ social connection, keeping the user alert of important information, and offering the user personalized enlightenment information based on previous user history. But quickly after the market, big companies and even the end-users started to exploit these features in their favor. That has created this mutated byproduct has caused users to suffer anxiety from pathological social media like chasing and increased stress from endless pinging notifications, features are misused to conduct elaborated and very harmful cyberbullying, and the AI suggestion has sent users to a rabbit hole and echo chamber were the user’s views are strengthened with every click.
“Oh won’t someone please think of the middle-aged users”
When we talk about the dangers of digital platforms and the threat or negative impact that can have on a person we usually think about the younger groups, like kids and young adults. But the digital platform is the second home turf for kids and young adults. They are aware (but need to be reminded often) that social media posts often share a distorted image that is not true in reality, they know how to block an intruder from their social media platform, they know how to hide (or show) their location, mute or turn off notifications from settings and they know how to avoid dark patterns and AI suggestion by cleaning their cookies or browse incognito. They have learned the “rules of the internet” from an early age and even from birth.
But one of our most vulnerable digital users, aside from very young digital users and individuals with cognitive disabilities, could be the middle-aged super digital users that just joined the digital platforms in their 40 or 50s. They don’t have the same how-to’s as well as the younger generations to block, mute, and ignore digital content. So they are left quite undefended against all the addictive digital reinforcements, the cortisol stress hormone-releasing notifications, and can get lost in the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.
“Ping”, “Ding” and “Dong”
One of the reasons I picked this topic is because I recently got my favorite middle-aged persons to visit me from Iceland, my in-laws, and my mother. They made sure to bring all of their most used and valued stuff: their iPads, laptops, iPhones, and their digital watches. They are all very active on the digital platforms, but thankfully enough their digital diet is quite healthy. In other words, they are not following any harmful content that does not resonate with the real world nor do they engage in political polarization. And while they were visiting they used the digital platforms to follow their friends and family, follow up on email and news, do some reposting, and post pictures of their grandkids. All healthy and good content, so to say.
But what I quickly noticed is that they have the push notifications turned on.every.device! Meaning that when they got one notification then the notification Symphonia played a tune around them. As one would imagine each notification ballade got my brain twitching each time with irritation. But for them, it was almost a chase to open up the iPhone push notification before the laptop notification would follow up. Needless to say, they were quite glued to all of their digital devices, but no one should wonder from all the endless dopamine rush from opening a new notification and seeing what awaits behind it.
I left my comment about their weird digital consumption silent, aside from one time. My mother one day came out of her room at 10 in the morning obviously very tired, feeling ill, and had not slept well. When I asked why she didn’t sleep well she responded that her friends in Iceland (two hours behind Sweden in time) were posting on a Facebook chat group till 2 in the morning in Sweden and she awoke to every notification. When I quite irritatedly asked why she didn’t just mute her notification during the night time she replied “No, but can I really do that?”. After a 15 min session of me teaching my mother to set her notification preference in Settings I could see that she did not follow all that I said and would definitely not be able to repeat the steps on her own without help.
Younger UX designers to the rescue
And that got me thinking, why does the UX of digital platforms and devices not accommodate middle-aged digital users better than they already do? Why is it so that middle-aged users have no way of setting their basic user preference settings without going through some hurdles or getting help from, well let’s face it, younger users? But more alarming middle-aged users seem to be more vulnerable falling down rabbit holes filled with racism, prejudice, and other harmful views that increase political polarization. In return that can have a devastating effect on our democracy, the latest example would be the Riots in Capitol Hill in Washington DC, led by “ordinary” blue-collar middle-aged right-wing extremists, neo-fascists, and alternative facts conspiracy followers.
So that it’s not just the ethical duty of us, the younger generation UX designers’, ask ourselves “How can we improve the lives, wellbeing, and sanity of our middle-aged not-so-tech-savvy digital users?” but we also need to make sure that our designs and user experience does not reinforce political polarization, racism, and other harmful views that in return can attack our democracy and threaten the lives and wellbeing of certain minority groups.