According to the United Nations Population Fund, the number of people over 60 years of age will reach one billion by 2020. While the trend of aging societies is a cause for celebration, it also presents huge challenges. People everywhere must age with dignity and security. The key question is: Are our latest technologies and computing platforms designed keeping in mind this 10 per cent (aged 65+) of the global population? Our lifestyle has changed quite a lot in the past decade and digital transformation is in full swing.

The youth segment has become the implied target market for the dazzling array of digital devices, apps and tools. However, the huge consumer base comprising elderly users has remained untapped. As per HelpAge India’s annual report, by 2050, the number of India’s senior citizens will be to equal its under-18 population. So, the elderly have immense potential to constitute an entirely new customer base. The segment comprises over 110 million senior citizens with a literacy rate of 44 per cent, and the penetration of mobile phones and internet access in this segment has been growing.

With no smart phones and social media, senior citizens used to rely heavily on human interaction and personal attention. But the explosion of technology in the last 10 years has changed their world. Most businesses today have an infusion of technology in their services thus adding a lot of convenience to the user experience. For the younger generations that have grown up in these times, it is almost natural to accept these changes. Technology, no doubt, makes life easy. But these changes are daunting for seniors who are not acquainted with technology and evince a natural resistance to change. If we do not address this gap between seniors and technology today, life for them tomorrow with newer and bigger inventions will get even more daunting.

Technology can enrich senior citizens’ lives in more ways than one. Most importantly, a digitally-savvy senior is in tune with the times. He or she can independently go about online business and will seldom depend on people for help. It has been observed that seniors who have allowed technology into their daily itinerary live happier and more fulfilled lives than their counterparts who refuse to adapt to the new changes.

Technology has seamlessly transformed lives. It is high time modern technologies became inclusive and stop turning a blind eye to elderly users. We inherited this world from them. They told us stories, taught us lessons and ultimately helped us stand on our feet. Next time, if the elderly couple living right across your street requests your assistance in tweaking their mobile settings, readily lend a helping hand. As they stride along the twilight of their lives we might as well help them settle in this age of accelerating innovations.

The complex interplay of technology, economics and nature is releasing an extraordinary energy that is reshaping everything that we have ever dreamt of or built. It is miraculously transforming ways in which we hail a cab or to how we order our food. In fact, it has the potential to change the fate of the nations of the world to our very own intimate relationships. In this age when grey cells are exploding with ideas, the resulting innovations are revamping healthcare, education, politics, law and many other sectors.

Technology is creating fair and equal opportunities for individuals and small groups to save the world, or perhaps kill it. We need the creators and users of technologies to be diverse. Leaving the elderly behind will mean leaving out the most experienced and wisest voices amongst us from entering this innovation roller-coaster. Their advice and sentiments will have a huge impact on the way technology is going to be shaped. After all, humans shaped technology and now technology is shaping our common future. The elderly would love to be in touch with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, get real-time news updates, connect with old colleagues, read and shop online. But alas, we see an alarming divide between the intuitive, tech-savvy youth and the wise, tech-hungry senior citizens.

Data released by Pew Research Centre showed that only 61 per cent of internet users in the US bank online. Reason: lack of trust in digital banking. The hurdle is not just lack of familiarity with computers. Many senior citizens have failing eyesight and have to seek external help to manage an online account. Identity theft, technology hiccups and misuse of information only compound their apprehensions. Given this reality, banks should stop pushing digitization for digitization’s sake. Instead, they should provide oneon- one assistance to senior citizens who request it. Digitization may be convenient for the Government, but it has its downside. For elderly consumers, faceless banking contributes to substantial stress. Besides, the significant downsizing of staff in banks does not augur well for a developing country that needs employment for its burgeoning population. While the government’s National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) aims to empower at least one person per household with crucial digital literacy skills by 2020, the elderly population seems to be missing from the plan. With computerization or digitalization of almost all basic services and facilities, Digital Literacy has become need of the hour especially for the vulnerable elderly population.

There are so many uses and benefits of digital literacy but digitally illiterate persons, particularly older persons (55+) find it very tricky to handle / operate their smart phones. In our country, most older persons are not computer literate, as they have never learnt computer skills. Computers are still strange objects for most of them and they try to escape from computer technology. While most older persons are keen to learn basics of smart phones, computers, laptops and other modern gadgets, they hardly get support from their younger family members, relatives or society due to hectic lifestyle of younger generations among other factors.

Studies by Agewell Foundation have shown that digital literacy can be a boon for older persons, particularly for those who live alone, live away from their children/grandchildren, live with mobility constraints and want to live independently in old age. It not only makes their life smooth, comfortable and easier but also keeps them in the mainstream of society. The study also observed that there is a keen desire among older persons to keep them connected with the new world order, ruled by internet and information technology.

Agewell Foundation Survey shows approximately 85.8 per cent respondents were digitally and computer illiterate. Out of this, 76.5 per cent were elderly men and 95 per cent were elderly women. However, there are no dedicated programmes for digital literacy of elderly; NGOs like Agewell foundation and Help Age India are running such programmes, where the uptake is impressive as Agewell has already trained over 35,000 elderly in the last four years.

In today’s age of constantly changing technologies, the elderly are often left behind as they cannot keep up with the fast pace. This often leads to them being socially isolated. Help Age and Agewell Foundation also get elderly connected via social media and teach them how to use Skype, WhatsApp, Google search, book cabs, browse YouTube and open Facebook accounts connecting them to old batch mates, friends and family. It opens a whole new world of engagement for them and also provides them a ready source of news, entertainment and connects them to the outside world, besides making life easier for them. Often their own children or grandchildren don’t get the time or in some cases don’t have the patience to teach them. These Digital workshops become their window to independence and help in building their self confidence and improving their quality of life.

(To be Concluded)

The writer is with Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management (EIILM), Kolkata