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The Digital Native divide: How difficult is it to send photos to Granny?

What constitutes a Digital Native?

It used to be ‘us lot’ didn’t it? Anyone working in and around the technology space. A few years ago, you could probably have defined the term as ‘anyone who knows how to properly use a Nokia N95’. Because if you spent enough time learning how Symbian worked, you probably applied those skills to sorting out your Apple TV and programming your Sky+ box.

Nowadays the arrival and explosion of the app economy has seriously expanded the digital natives amongst the population. All of a sudden, anyone with a bit of willpower can order their shopping with their iPhone during their morning commute.

As more and more people wrap themselves around the smartphone and tablet lifestyle (or, perhaps, the opposite), I perceive a growing divide between those that are connected and those that aren’t.

There’s actually a significant number of steps and a lot of background knowledge required for you to browse and enjoy my Facebook gallery of little 20-month old Archie. You need a Facebook account. You need to know how to install the app. You need to go through the Apple registration process. You need a credit card and the eyesight and dexterity to be able to handle typing it all in properly. You need to remember to tap the right sections on the Facebook app to see the photos. You need to then know how (and remember) where the comments are on the photos.

Oh it’s a bit of a nightmare. It really is.

Witness, for example, how my parents or grandparents use technology. Giving them an iPhone doesn’t necessarily turn them into 21-year old hyper-connected tweeting geniuses. Having tried all manner of apps and services, my wife and I have resorted to the ultra basic technique of simply emailing photos. Even then, this doesn’t quite meet my expectations. It’s utterly depressing when I hear that my mother has been trying to show photos of little Archie to her friends but couldn’t find the email. Or the iPhone was displaying some connectivity error because her friend didn’t have WiFi at her house. Yada. Yada. Yada.

And that’s my mother. When it comes to anyone of a slightly older generation than her, it’s basically game over. The easy-to-use phones are excellent at meeting their needs for calling and texting. My mother-in-law is using a ‘senior device’ that has simply changed her life. She doesn’t bother with the landline phone any more — because she can’t easily hear people speaking that way. The clarity on these ‘easy to use’ phones is tuned precisely to her needs. So she’s loving it. But she’s not getting any photos of the grandchildren on it. The device she has is MMS capable but we both know what that means, don’t we? Indeed I come out in spots when anyone mentions the acronym ‘MMS’.

First, my stupid network will demand 35p PLUS VAT — that’s almost 50p — for me to send a photo to her. And because of the rubbish infrastructure, it mangles the super quality photo into some postage-stamp sized piece of art. Useless.

It’s hardly a nice experience.

What I want is to be able to send photos to my mother-in-law’s ‘easy to use’ handset. And I want to do this easily. I don’t want to have to use the ridiculously functionless MMS capabilities. I want something more.

I think, unfortunately, it’s a bit of a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of these ‘easy to use’ phone manufacturers — many of whom who seem to confuse ‘easy to use’ with ‘customers who are simple minded’. There’s nothing simple-minded about my mother-in-law. And the nice basic use-case I’ve outlined above shouldn’t be beyond the wit and capabilities of man. It really shouldn’t. We put a man on the MOON! Now can we come up with a way of sending photos of my son to my mother-in-law’s easy-to-use handset?

I wonder.

I think the real issue is that so many of these manufacturers use operating systems that can’t do anything more than a 1999 Nokia.

At some point I hope we’ll see a resolution.

In the meantime we’re using email and an iPad to solve the picture-delivery problem. If you’ve any suggestions for other services/apps or approaches, I’m keen to hear your thoughts.


  1. MMS really is a bit of a disaster… and i resent paying Big Red 37p per pic. and we dont do video messages anymore cos its 62p and the quality needs to be reduced to low quality to send it over the stupid network. me and my mates use whatsapp. great invention but again, theres a stupid 12mb limit on files we wanna share. it seems like no one has really thought about picture sharing. any other apps knocking about? it be good to know.

  2. (Little bit of advertising here, sorry about that). We built precisely for this use case. It allows you to push photos to different “connected screens”, such as a Samsung telly, a cheap 3G android tablet, or a connected picture frame. The service is very simple on the picture viewing side, the pictures just come in, no manipulation required. You can even remotely switch photos, to comment the latest pics of your child while on the phone. Please give it a try! 

  3. I think your better revelation in this piece is the question of whether this technology (mobile, social, or otherwise) is actually making things easier period? I am with you in terms of the steps, and it’s horrible. We haven’t moved the needle forward at al. It should not take registration to be enabled to do a new feature.

    I more than agree with your ending point. Mobile OSes haven’t evolved since Psion/Hildon/PalmOS Classic/Newton one bit. And the digital elite… they whom are loudest about what counts and what’s innovative… don’t even pay attention to this.

  4. We encountered this problem with my grand parents. Whilst all the nieces and nephews were off enjoying gap years and posting photos to Facebook, they were left very much out in the cold. A few years ago we tried and failing to turn them into silver surfers by all clubbing together to purchase an ADSL connection and a basic internet ready PC. It failed due to over complexity (they were thrown whenever McAfee popped up saying it needed to update, or Windows Update did anything, or when their wifi router needed to be switched off and on again) and they stopped using it.

    We tried again last year by changing tack and buying them a 3G iPad. For their purposes it is just fantastic. They have adequate 3G coverage in their cottage in rural Gloucestershire so no need for ADSL and the complication it brings. Whilst they never move far beyond a few apps and bookmarked Safari sites, they are now contactable by email for photos, can check the news/weather at their leisure, and enjoy the experience. It served our purposes wonderfully.

  5. One cheeky drunken night with the other half could end up being very upsetting to the grandparents though with a slip of the finger 😉


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