There’s an assumption in many parts of the meetings industry that older people are anti-tech and therefore can be safely ignored when discussing issues relating to technology. People should bear a couple of facts in mind: first, older people are often the ones who, if not actually making purchasing decisions, hold the purse strings. Second some of them have been playing with technology for years.
For example, anybody more than fifty years old probably started work in the early eighties. They will have seen the spread of fax machines, PCs, mobile phones and the Web. In a professional context, they’ve seen the arrival of PowerPoint, the growth of video recording and of data projection.
In other words, they’ve been dealing with technological developments throughout their working lives.
That said, there’s no doubt that many of them have a less than enthusiastic view of some of the gadgets and gizmos being promoted in the meetings industry today. The reason may be less to do with the tech itself and more to do with what it does (or doesn’t) do.
In the main they’ve been around long enough to know that the new stuff is usually being promoted by somebody who has something to gain by persuading others to use it. Maybe they sell the hardware; maybe they sell services related to the technology; whatever the case, they’re not dispassionate commentators. Older people are more likely to recognise this and be able to ignore the the hype surrounding some of the gizmos.
For example, some people reckon that every exhibition booth should have a QR code prominently displayed. Why? Who in their right mind is going to haul a phone out in order to take a picture of a QR Code? So it saves you the trouble of typing a URL into your phone but who’s going to bother to look at an exhibitor’s website when they’re in front of their booth already?
Then again, there’s no shortage of people flogging social media services and claiming that they’re invaluable for trade shows. Yet most people over the age of 40 probably can’t be bothered with Twitter because of the lack of content of any value and the repetition caused by people re-Tweeting links that they like. There’s rarely any content on a trade show’s Facebook page other than promotional messages from the organiser and others from exhibitors pleading with attendees to go their booths.
I’ve been in trouble before over suggesting that nobody has yet found a way to use social media effectively in a trade show context.
And when it comes to Google Glass, as one person put it recently, ‘Do I want to talk to somebody who appears to be watching to see if something more interesting is coming up on his Twitter feed?’. On the other hand, if you’re facing somebody at a show who’s wearing Google Glass you know that here is somebody who’s happy to spend $1500.00 on a gadget and who, apparently, will be happy to pay a further $50.00 for the plug-in earphone.
When we look at apps, these same older people will probably decide very quickly which event apps are worth bothering with and which are a waste of time.
This pattern will usually be applied throughout the technology for events: older people seem to be more likely to evaluate it and ignore anything that offers little benefit.
So perhaps the idea that older people hate technology isn’t so much that they can’t cope with it but they’ve seen so much of it over the years that they’re not as impressed as the younger people who haven’t ’been there, done that’.
(This article first appeared in Conference News in September 2013)