Mind the gap

I’ve been helping my neighbour, David, with his visa application1. Spending time with him over a couple of evenings gave me a chance to get to know him better. It’s been quite a learning experience for both of us. Their life2 is quite a contrast to ours, in areas we wouldn’t even think twice about3.

  • We live around our smartphones – are probably too addicted to them.
    He keeps his mobile phone in his car, doesn’t even get it to the house.
  • He provides his landline as the only contact number.
    We didn’t even bother with getting a landline when we moved to this house 4 years ago.
  • He doesn’t know how to use a computer. His wife got a new computer as present last year. They’re still to ‘open it’, because she hasn’t gotten up to it yet.
    We spend many days solely with them ‘computers’.
  • If Raghs & I need to have a quick chat, we message each other on Hangouts (I work downstairs, she upstairs).
    It was a shock to him. He just walks over to his wife :)
  • They watch ‘Sky TV’.
    We don’t have a TV subscription. Chromecast, combined with Netflix, YouTube, Play Movies, Now TV, BBC iPlayer and Eurosport Player have kept us going.
  • He reads the Telegraph.
    I abhor the Telegraph. I read The Economist regularly, getting rest of my reading links from Twitter – mostly NYT and running/cycling/tri articles – and a few email newsletters I subscribe to.
  • He maintains a productive kitchen garden, and distributes surplus produce to us neighbours.
    I can’t even keep my basic garden alive :(
  • A large, if not majority, portion of our spending is online.
    Before today, he’d only ever used his credit/debit cards to make payments in person, or over the phone. Never online.
  • We would struggle to survive without Amazon. Been Prime members for years.
    He doesn’t shop online.
  • We book even work travel tickets by ourselves.
    They travel, for leisure, at least twice a year. All their travels are booked through travel agencies and tour operators.
  • And, of course, Lorna cooks every day.
    We (mainly R), cook maybe once in 2-3 weeks. Otherwise, it’s Jyoti’s food – cooked every Saturday, providing for till Thursday.
  • He has a 12yo single malt bottle that he bought 22 years ago. Still over less than half drunk.
    Mine rarely last a year :D

In two sessions, I’ve gone from being a
why aren’t we doing everything on the phones, automagically, aided by AI and insert-tech-flavour-of-the-month“,
hold on, there may be a lot of people being left vulnerable here“.

It was after the first evening session with him that I saw this tweet from Taavet:

Taavet Hinrikus' tweet about NHS trial replacing telephone helpline with AI chatbot
Moving forward, leaving behind.

My newly opened eyes found it disturbing, as you can see in my response to Taavet.

From both product, and business management perspectives, this has been a very important eye opener! Thought I’d share it out.

  1. I was hoping he’d come half an hour late – I was about 30 mins away from finishing my prototyping course. Sadly, the British gene in him is still alive and kicking – he was here right on time.
    May even have been waiting outside 5 mins early, to ring the bell on time. 
  2. It’s not like age is a big barrier. David is 6 years older than my dad, Lorna is 7 years older than my mom. My mom is as digitally savvy as they come. My dad isn’t great on the computer, but loves his smartphone. (A bit too much, it appears from his WhatsApp activity!) 
  3. This may also explain the state of internet connectivity at our place when we moved here. There was a DSL ‘broadband’ by Sky which provided download speeds in low-single-digit Mbps, and upload speeds in kbps. The previous owners were David’s generation. As were our two next door neighbours. We quickly swapped it out for Virgin broadband. It now averages between 50 and 120 Mbps down speed. 

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