When she was 81, Masako Wakamiya decided to learn Swift and developed an app, Hinadan, a game based on Japan’s Hinamatsuri doll festival. She did it partly because no such app existed, and partly because she believes a person is never too old for a challenge.
Wakamiya’s open-minded attitude took her on a journey to the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where Apple CEO Tim Cook welcomed her as by far the oldest developer. A former banker who first experimented with computers at around 60, she is seen by many as a model for active senior citizens. At McCann Worldgroup’s ‘Truth About Age’ presentation in Tokyo in August, we asked her for her views on technology, senior talent and advertisers’ approach to the older generation.
What did you get personally from the experience of app development?
Developing the app was a new world for me. Steve Jobs made it possible to create whatever you wanted. I realised that the democratization of apps was an amazing thing.
Do you feel that you are an anomaly?
I don’t feel I’m that different. But I don’t think many people my age feel the need to do something in the way I did. I think they’re right to a certain extent that the older generation doesn’t understand technology. Literacy is low, but I don’t think it’s right to make fun of it. People should understand why it’s that way.
What would you say to people who are afraid of technology?
I would say it’s not scary. Rock climbing or hang-gliding is dangerous. But with programming, it’s not as if someone’s going to die so there’s nothing to be afraid about. Seniors are afraid to fail. But failing is all subjective. Japanese people are concerned with how others perceive them. For senior people to be more active and progressive, we have to free ourselves and live without that concern. So you need the courage to stand whatever people say to you once you’ve done something.
How can they develop tech skills?
Just give it a try. If they understand that by connecting online they can contribute to family and to Japan…I think that needs to be explained to them. They may not want to do it just because it’s fun, but if they feel some sense of obligation they are more likely to take action.
Do you think that companies under-use older people?
Definitely. In the past, women were under-used, but now they can hold core leadership roles. Women make up half the population, but a third of the population are seniors. Yet for some reason, when people become a certain age, they’re taken out of the planning group that comes up with all the ideas.
What media platform do you spend the most time on?
The internet. There, I can choose what I want to see. On TV, if there are bad commercials, I can’t avoid them. I want to see what’s in between the commercials. Of course, there are some commercials I want to see. It’s alright if they’re fun.
Do you think advertisers understand the older generation?
Not necessarily. I hate to be forced to look at something. Some advertising creates a bad feeling and some things that I was going to buy I decide not to buy just because of the commercial. I often have a feeling that research was not done properly.
How can they do better?
Especially in Japan, they need to do fieldwork. They should talk more with grandpa or with the neighbours, look at how those people behave so as to understand them. Take samples to people’s homes and have them try it. The elderly have so much time on their hands that they would be happy to help.
Comments have been condensed for clarity.
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Ageism in the advertising world is Campaign Asia's 'Front and Centre' theme throughout September. Look out for articles addressing the issue from different angles over the coming weeks, or click the links below for published stories.