The website will see you now …
Are you as fed up as I am at continuously being told to “refer to our website”? Whether it is a doctor, the local council, an airline, one’s insurer or more-or-less anyone one is trying to get hold of, one needs to be tech-savvy. And incredibly patient! There is an expectation that you will own a smart phone, that you will have easy access to wi-fi, an online computer and the ability to search the web and input data into a website.
I am not alone in getting incredibly stressed in filling out the forms necessary to go to the theatre, or travel to another country. When we travelled for a short trip to Greece last year and I had to get to grips with the Passenger Locator Form both to enter Greece and then again to come back home into the UK I couldn’t upload the various documents I was supposed to upload, or the Covid Vaccine QR codes or whatever, and it led to some very tetchy and stressed moments at the end of our holiday as I tried to tick all the boxes.
Last night when I tried to call my health insurer, I was told there were “56 people” in the queue before me so “please refer to our website”. When we were ill with Covid and tried to call 111 and our GP, again we were told to “refer to the website” for information. As a member of the older generation, it seems to be a minefield and we are all expected to have learnt to deal with issues by computer rather than simply by talking to a human being – which is often far more efficient and helpful.
These systems are often set up by young people. Very clever young people, I acknowledge. But, being young, they don’t realise that one’s eyesight gets worse as one gets older so one often can’t read the ever-so-cool tiny print they design, and may not know how to enlarge it. They don’t realise the stress it causes to be told that you have been locked out of a bank account or online service and that they have sent an authorisation code to your mobile – which is two stories upstairs and getting up there to retrieve it isn’t easy for those with bad hips or knees. Then when you finally get the phone and hobble back down, slowly, step by step, to the computer, the allocated time for entering the *** authorisation code into your computer has run out.
But it isn’t just the older generation who have a problem. It is those who have less money and therefore less access to a Smart phone or to a computer at home. There is a rather arrogant assumption by those setting up these systems that everyone will abide by them and be happy with them. But we aren’t, necessarily. It might make life easier for the service provider, but it often doesn’t make life easier for the client or patient. It just adds to one’s stress level, which reduces one’s immune system, which makes one’s problems or illness even worse.
I can remember the day not so very long ago when one could book a face-to-face appointment with a doctor without trouble, or call a bank without having to wait an hour or more in a queue to talk to a human being. And very often a human being who can sort the problem out in a few seconds.
But I am not a complete Luddite. I do see that technology can be of enormous help to us as we go through life and age. In fact, I am surprised we haven’t got further with it by now as when writing the book AGE MATTERS, I was talking to several tech companies years ago about how technology can be used to alert people to health and other problems. Of course, the Apple watch and other gadgets are available but again they are often expensive so those who have less money are unable to afford them. These watches and other such gadgets can detect whether you have a fall and call the emergency services, can see whether you have atrial fibrillation, low oxygen levels, or are walking asymmetrically. It seems to me we should by now be able to offer, either on the NHS or very cheaply, gadgets that can detect movement or non-movement, so that if someone living alone has not gone to the toilet or boiled the kettle it sends an alert. Or analyse one’s urine or stools in the toilet to identify any health problems. I know that these gadgets are available, but many don’t know about them, and they can be expensive.
So, I guess my plea is that tech developers take these factors into consideration as they design new systems. Consider that people contacting a service provider may be frail, blind, disabled or not that tech-savvy. Or may not be able to afford the computer or phone required to do so. In the coming era of AI this will be increasingly important so can those in the industry please consider those of us who find some of these online forms difficult and stressful and provide more help, and simplicity. And as they develop the technology that will be supporting us by our side in the coming years, make it as human as possible – eg capable of adapting to those of us who struggle with it. Oh dear, this probably sounds like Grumpy of Kew!