We Took Grandpa’s Keys Away. Now We Have To Take His iPhone.

Brian S Hall / July 22nd, 2013

Is there any more magical device than the iPhone? With this amazingly light, utterly beautiful device, we can call and text, email, video chat, play games, watch television, read the great books of history.

We tweet and Facebook. We buy and sell stocks. We set our home alarm, monitor our blood pressure, pay our bills – all with a few swipes of our fingers.

Perhaps this is simply too much power to possess by someone on the verge of senility.

Some of us have already had the discussion over taking away a parent’s car keys. Soon, we may all need to decide if we should take away their iPhones, iPads, Kindles and Androids.

The very technology that connects them with the world, with their grandchildren, that entertains and enlightens them, may – regrettably – become more than they can properly control.

Forget Nigerian email scams, what of FaceTime video scams? Will your aging mom or dad accept calls from anyone? Might they give away – to that friendly man on the screen – their banking information? Their Social Security number?

Will your father or grandmother, say, in their current mental state, tweet pictures of themselves – to Facebook or Twitter – that are entirely inappropriate?

Who will they text? Will your daughter in high school be troubled by the increasingly irrational emails her grandmother is sending her?

Will grandpa leave the device open, allowing hackers complete, unfettered access?

That Zynga game that your dad spends so much time with – will he spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on in-app upgrades?

Your mother has repeatedly posted embarrassing information about her adult children on Facebook. How do we make her stop?

How will we take away our dad’s iPhone, or our mother’s iPad?

How do we initiate this conversation?

How do we cut off our loved ones from connectivity and all the joy it offers? These are difficult questions but we may have to face them.

Tech companies are designing smartphones and tablets to make it increasingly easier to connect with search, the web, friends and family. Should we demand tech companies also build devices that are harder to use – at least for some?

Is it right – or necessary – to require Apple, for example, to build in a set of “anti-accessible” controls such that we can limit the functionality, use and time our parents and grandparents spend on their devices? Will Silicon Valley create a start-up that uses biometrics, for examples, or other identity tools to ensure a device is “locked down” when we are not around, or that only the “good” gets through, and no bad can get out?

It seems that tech companies, from Samsung and Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook, ought to bear some responsibility to ensure that the powerless elderly aren’t handed a truly powerful device without any consideration as to the potential harm it may cause.

With smartphone or tablet in hand, everyone and everything becomes instantly accessible, all over the world. The frightening corollary: Everyone and everything now has instant access to your parent’s (virtual) front door. At some point, you may be forced to take away the keys – for their own good.

You should not have to undertake this rather depressing familial obligation all on your own.

Image courtesy of ThinkProgress

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • David Olson

    Brian, my mom is at that place but fortunately she has only ever wanted a landline. The problem will be when I get to that age. Scary thoughts when I look at myself being on the receiving end of concerned grown children.

    • Thanks. I was recently in a position where this became a *potential* concern. I think you’re right: it’s one of those issues that will be much more critical as we (not our parents) get older.

  • capnbob67

    I started reading this thinking it was just a bit of sensationalistic clickbait but found myself agreeing with several potential issues. My dad is too old to be a danger (can barely use the iPad to Google), but if Mum lost her marbles, she could become pretty dangerous…

    It is a whole new meaning for “Parental Controls”.

    • Thanks for the comment. I am still struggling to enumerate exactly what I think Apple, Facebook, et al can do to mitigate this.

  • benbajarin

    Very thought provoking piece. Thanks for writing Brian.

  • David Stevenson

    Should a five year old child be able to do any of these things either? Isn’t this what “parental control” should be about?

    • qka

      Grandparents, grandkids – same problems?

      • capnbob67

        The technological “Circle of Life”…

        • lucascott

          Why not. both have a point in their lives where they can’t dress or feed themselves and often poop in their pants.

  • Herding_sheep

    Maybe Parental controls should be retitled to something more fitting. How about, “Controlling Parentals.” No but seriously, I think the parental controls would be fitting. Other than the irony of having the tables turned, of course.

  • lucascott

    Some of the issues are already solved via things like iOS restrictions. My grandfather has an iPad since is assistance home has wifi (they encourage such things) It is on an iCloud account with email that we in the family know the password. So we can do things like have it on my computer with a filter that anything not from someone in the family (the only agreed upon folks that should be emailing him) is filtered into a folder so he doesn’t see it. I check it for harmless stuff and move that back into his inbox.

    IAP are turned off as are changing accounts. And since I’m a developer I put his iPad on iOS 7 after discovering even if you revert back the activation lock sticks. So now if a nurse or such steals his iPad it will be a brick. I also got apple care plus on it for any damage and the nurses know to call me if that happens and I’ll see to getting it replaced.

    We put some brain exercising games like sudoku on there, plus a few of is fav magazines that went digital. And he has Netflix. But mostly he uses it for making video calls with his grand kids most of whom live in other states. He’s a lot happy about living in the home now that he can talk to them all the time and not just during their twice a year trips.

    And yes he has Facebook. And yes I know that password as well.

    • Great comment, thanks. I wonder if there’s something more we can do – beyond the “Kids Corner” in Windows Phone, or the new “profiles” in Android. For example, perhaps a way to set FaceTime video chat so “grandpa” never takes an errant video call. Or, restrict in-app purchases to no more than $5 a day. We have asked tech companies to create clever ways to restrict access for children, but not the elderly.

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