Credit: Paul Miller / flickrHello Backchannel readers, I’m Sandra.
A few months ago, my dad told me his driver’s license was about to expire. He lost most of his vision in one eye after the last driving test and he is not confident that he will pass the test this time.
I started thinking about solutions – he could just be Uber! My parents could move closer to town! – but a deep sense of fear overwhelmed me. I wonder how my dad would take care of the everyday chores. I worry that he will be stuck in the house all day, every day. He will lose on random assignments that come from buying pottery around town, going to the grocery store, or rushing to the library whenever he wants. Losing all those daily activities left me nothing dire. So I thought of buying him a smartphone.
Consumer technology isn’t good for the older generation. I’ve seen the tech outrage accumulated at an incredible rate towards my parents. To browse the web, one refers to a series of steps outlined in the manual. To restart the router, follow another checklist, recorded line by line. To take and email photos with iPad, people flipped through a notebook to find out where all the processes were first written down. Swinging my smartphone at my dad and pointing at the Lyft app seemed like a long shot. Too long.
So when I saw Justin Boogaard showcasing his company at YCombinator’s Summer Introductory Day last week, I immediately felt a close relationship. Starting his career, GoGoGrandparent, is an automated hotline that lets people without a smartphone call an Uber car or order groceries. User dials a phone number, navigates a menu of simple options and orders the desired service. Amid the welcoming presentations of a future full of drones, virtual reality and 3D printed pills, GoGoGrandparent is the only company talking to me and my troubles, right now.
Do I think that one day GoGoGrandparent will grow a unicorn horn? Are not. Will it last for another year? Hard to say. As Boogaard directly admitted to me at Demo Day, investors expressed concerns about the feasibility of the company’s platform. But Boogaard’s idea has one key difference from many other extremely talented, hardworking founders who took to the stage at the Computer History Museum last week: it stems from compassion. Thinking of my unusually body father being confined to his home because the vision impairment left me shattered, and this is someone who shares my concerns, and better yet, is building a workaround.
However, this story has a happy ending. My dad passed the vision test and he renewed his license a few weeks ago. I am extremely relieved. (And I’ve seen him drive: don’t worry, he’s good!) But my admiration for Boogaard remains.
Elderly care doesn’t make great clicks. It’s not easy to get your heart pounded at a more user-friendly product for disenfranchised. But for every new live-streaming app, the “API for human workforce,” or the manual delivery service (it all can be great!), I hope there’s a founding team dreaming of New ways to extend the benefits of technology to more and more people. Many larger companies may have built a similar service to empower people like my dad, but they didn’t. It seems unfair to neglect some people as they are too small a market to bother.
After all, now I wonder what strange inventions would be like proof of alien life when I was in a depressed state. Maybe I would be the frightened resident of an artificial smart home, such as the house at Ray Bradbury’s. Prairie. Or I’ll go to the store, where dozens of robot cars will run around, picking meats and veggies, while me and a few old people scurry. (That robot trolley, by the way, also showed up at Demo Day.) Will someone search for us on the street? We are creatures defined by a certain time and place – how are we going to bridge the gap between the world we understand and the world that is racing ahead without us?
With that happy thought in mind, everyone, please enjoy your long weekends!
#### This week in Backchannel:
Steven Levy interviews Hillary Clinton’s domestic policy advisor to learn more about a candidate’s perspectives on technology. Clinton herself also emphasized passages of the interview, including: “A lot of our conclusions come from human capital”, that is to find ways to invest in technology to create more jobs, instead of just devour them.
We are in a wild west of passwords and authentic. Despite the existence of single sign-on services, most of us still struggle to access all of our websites and apps on too many devices. Scott Rosenberg’s biography Okta, a company that has a lot Ambitious look at the future of passwords.
Is it possible to initiate new trip sharing eat off Uber? The answer is yes – but it’s complicated. Our Miranda Katz checks out challenges facing Gett, an Israeli company that is very large in Europe but is struggling to gain a foothold in New York.