The burden of frequent technology transitions

I made a big decision recently: I decided to give up my Blackberry smartphone.

Why? Like a good geriatrician, I considered the benefits and the burdens of sticking with the Blackberry. And since the burdens seem to outweigh the benefits, bye-bye Blackberry.

This was a difficult decision for me, however. To begin with, becoming comfortable with a new device for one’s daily work takes time. During the transition phase, one is slower in getting work done. Plus, the frustrations of figuring out something new can suck up a lot of mental and emotional energy. (This is part of why clinicians have conniptions when EMR systems are installed or changed.)

Furthermore, just as with my new Samsung tablet, I expect the new smartphone will also require me to spend time identifying and installing suitable apps before the device becomes truly useful. For some functions, I’ll be able to use the same apps on the phone as I do on the tablet, so that provides a certain economy of learning energy.

But in other cases, I’ll have to find apps that are specific to phone functions, such as a good voicedial app. (The Blackberry has excellent voicedial, and this is a feature that I use often.) And I’ll have to figure out how to import my phone contacts — I don’t like installing my bazillion email contacts into a phone — as well as my ringtone.

In short, although I expect to be better off eventually by switching to a new Samsung phone, the transition will cost me time and energy. Plus a fair bit of money, as the new phone is not cheap.

The burden of frequent technology transitions

As best I can tell, modern life seems to demand such transitions with increasing frequency.

For instance, my first cell phone — a Sanyo phone from Sprint — lasted from 1999-2005. Six years! I only gave it up because I was leaving the country for an extended period of time. Otherwise, it was still dutifully maintaining battery charge, had adequate signal, and kept track of everyone’s phone number for me.

In other words, after six years, this cell phone could still function as if nearly new. Furthermore, the demands I was making on the phone hadn’t really changed.

Whereas today, I find myself replacing a phone that I purchased only nine months ago. Why?

  • Phone frequently malfunctioning. This phone (a Bold 9930) worked pretty well when I first got it, but now frequently hangs and freezes.
  • My expectations for smartphones have evolved. In particular, I’ve decided I need better access to a good to-do list while out and about. This means installing a task manager app, and all the good ones are on iOS or Android.
  • Blackberry no longer being supported for certain apps I use. It’s not just that cool new apps aren’t being made for the Blackberry; developers are also withdrawing support in some cases for Blackberry.

Some will surely say that the problem in all this is the Blackberry. It’s true that this is a troubled company and I probably should’ve given more weight last summer to its visible slide towards obsolescence. (But I love being able to answer the phone by pushing a button, rather than by swiping!)

Still, I find myself a bit disturbed by how quickly things become obsolete these days. Rapid advancements in technology are undeniably a boon. However, they seem to be demanding ever more frequent upgrades in hardware and software, with attendant costs in money, time, and attention. (For instance, new laptops seem to last less and less time before becoming visibly slow as one works.)

How will seniors and caregivers feel about frequent changes to their technology?

I’ll admit that there is a part of me that is deeply conservative and doesn’t like for my technology to change in appearance. There is something comforting about having one’s workspace (or home space, for that matter) look the way it always has looked, assuming one finds that look congenial.

Changes in function are a little trickier  Functionality and usability does seem to (mostly) improve with new devices, but in the short term, there is often some kind of learning curve.

So I find myself wondering: if a younger, tech-interested clinician such as myself finds herself frustrated by the need for frequent tech upgrades and changes, how will my patients and their caregivers feel about this?

Will they need to upgrade their smartphones every year, in order to take advantage of the latest care coordination technology? And who will help them migrate their wallpaper, contacts, and ringtone?

Summing it up

As the capabilities of technology keep expanding, I find myself having to replace my smartphone surprisingly soon. These kinds of technology transitions cost a certain amount of money, time, and energy. Since I find the changes tiresome, I wonder how they will feel to my patients and their caregivers, who probably have less tolerance for tech changes than I do. If I were a busy caregiver, I’d be wary of depending too much on a method of organization that requires me to buy a new device and learn to use it every 1-2 years.

Leslie Kernisan is an internal medicine physician and geriatrician who blogs at GeriTech.

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