If it sticks to its current cycle, Apple will proudly release iPhone 24 in the year 2050. An executive in hologram form will waltz onto the keynote stage in San Francisco to proclaim that the company’s sleek new brain implant has the world’s fastest and most usable neural interface on the market. Crazed young people will converge outside Apple stores in nano-assembled tents and vie to be the first to stuff the technology into their craniums.
But what about the adults of 2050? And what about the elderly? If they’re anything like today’s Americans, they may not be so eager to purchase the new device. Today, older Americans are less engaged with technology than the rest of the population, lagging behind by more than 25 percentage points when it comes to Internet adoption. Middle-aged adults, too, are slower to take up new gadgets: 58 percent of American 50-to-64-year-olds own a smartphone, compared to 86 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds.
To know whether our hypothetical tech user of the future will pick up an iPhone 24 and react with easy delight or total bewilderment, we must ask why many adults have trouble with technology as they get older. If there’s something inherent to aging that makes it difficult to understand the latest technology, then the latest gizmo will be as opaque to an adult living in 2050 as current technologies are to adults today. But if childhood exposure to a dizzying rate of technological change can inoculate you against deteriorating technology skills later in life, then the adults and seniors of the future may have a very different experience.