A startup for the parents of smart children

Person holding a smartphone

This article is about an opportunity to start a company that teaches older people how to use technology to improve their lives. It is essential to tell older people how all the cool new technologies work, and how they can stay safe online. Older people are as vulnerable to cyber attacks as teenagers. It’s time we think about the troubles an entire generation is facing.

Solving a problem for yourself, or people you know about is probably the best way to start a company. Today I discovered a problem faced by a group of people in Nepal: parents of smart children. The youngsters of middle to upper-class families in their teens or twenties were lucky enough to get their hands into the latest and greatest technologies. They are used to actively using gadgets and online services. They book a movie ticket online, order food at home, shop, and hop into a cab back home, all using their smartphone. Back at home, their parents struggle to close a pop-up advertisement displayed by an app in the smartphone gifted by their children. These parents spent the last decade working hard for their children, and never thought they would be left so behind.

Wouldn’t they want to leverage the power of technology that they are holding on their hands? Wouldn’t they want to explore more of the internet, in a more creative, lively, and fun way? I am curious about how they would use technology. Would they use technology the same way we used it? Would they discover that there is an app for almost anything? When would they learn that their bank would never ask for their pin code and expiry dates of their debit card? How would they react to the singles who are eager to meet them tonight? Would they also install a toolbar on their browser while trying to open an email attachment as we did? Would they also make a new email friend who wants them to remit him a small sum of money to help him? Would they ever notice that a dialog box inside a webpage showing a pending antivirus update is different from the actual software update notification on their smartphone?

The internet has always been a bundle of joy and surprises for people like me. The bookmarks, subscriptions, saved posts, answers, and comments from forums are my treasures. The influencers from around the globe have changed the way I look at the world and myself. I have talked about my darkest secrets with a random person. I have almost sent a month’s earnings to some spammer; have almost typed my password in a phishing webpage; had dozens of comment wars with strangers in random forums.

I have hopped from one messaging app to another, one social network to another. I have sometimes written a blog or two here and there, have created a profile on several freelance job portals. Once I even tried to change the world by sharing a link to a signature collection campaign. Once I signed myself up as a counselor on a website and helped dozens of depressed and worried people from all around the world. Sometimes I used to feel so powerful, and sometimes so worthless.

What if we could teach those parents how to use the tools they have at stake? I think it’s time we teach them the basics of online presence, and share a bit of our knowledge about security and privacy. I want to see how a literacy campaign for parents turns out to be. Would more mommies start sharing their favorite recipes with her friends? Would they order a watch online for their husbands on for their birthday? Would more daddies play multiplayer games with their school friends instead of suffering from a mid-life crisis? I believe they would. Would a mom be earning off her recipe videos, or a dad off of his self-help course?

Ideally, an entire generation would become curious once again in their lives. The happiness in their eyes would be priceless when they open up a parcel they ordered from China, or when they receive a payout for their last month’s commission. Life would once again be fun and games for the grey-haired people. Swiping up-and-up all day watching 15-seconds clips, sharing a selfie with the aunty next door, playing ludo and other fun games with spouse – why should the kids have all the fun? Subscribing to other fun-loving old couples from the other corner of the world, and getting a notification when they post yet another video of them dancing would be a miracle.

Unfortunately, they look at the technology like an 8th grader would look at first order differential equations. Some people never tried, some have tried and failed, and some people have discovered that they only need to know a few rules to solve them. For the majority of people, the internet is making their lives easier because their kids now pay the utility and telephone bills through their mobile wallets. They can video-call their daughter living in Australia while making a ginger-garlic paste in the kitchen. Apart from that, the internet is a mystery hidden inside a little box connected to a cable in the corner of their house.

I have tried to introduce my parents to technology as much as I would do to my kids. My dad never used a computer, but now knows how to read an email. He plays the games that we make and tells us when he discovers a problem. He can differentiate advertisements from notifications and knows better than clicking the button highlighted with dark patterns. He sometimes broadcasts live from any family gatherings for relatives who didn’t attend. My mom is happier with the 15-second videos with lip-sync than with fake news and political arguments. Mom sometimes takes selfies with people she likes and adds them as a friend in her social media. They know how to add a new contact, how to delete a long video to save on space, and how to add more people to group video chats. For people who spent all their lives struggling to keep the bills paid, and who never had a smartphone, that’s an achievement. They have become happier and more social in general.

creating an email/facebook account

installing new apps / software

about online privacy and security-

monitoring their children’s activities

PS: I am trying to find time to do this.

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