Overcoming fear and having an open mind is the advice given by elderly users for technological inclusion of senior citizens.
One of the greatest transformations to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic has been people turning into technological beings. Computer and cell phone usage has been boosted by the health emergency. But that transition hasn’t been even; while it’s occurred almost naturally among adolescents and young people, technological inclusion of the elderly has been much slower.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 35% of people aged 55 and above in Mexico are Internet users, with 62% using smartphones and only 17% computers.
Tec Review spoke with French teacher Danielle Shont and Tabasco Culture Center coordinator Rosa Giorgana, who talked about their experiences now that the health situation has forced them to resort to technology more often.
Danielle used to limit her use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to social networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp for her conversations but had to start using Zoom in order to continue teaching her French classes.
Rosa used to use her Facebook account for personal matters, but over time, has had to use it more often to get word out about her work. She’s also had to ask for help in learning how to use other social networks, such as Twitter.
For both women, necessity led them to looking into other platforms. “I confess that I’m a slow learner. My daughter has had to come and explain the same thing to me about Zoom several times,” says Danielle.
“I didn’t know what a hashtag was, or what tagging someone meant, but I had to turn to friends to explain it to me and now I understand,” Rosa explains.
For both women, losing the fear of learning is one of the keys to closing the digital divide among older adults, because –from their experience– they’ve felt ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that their grandkids are better at handling technology than they are.
They say it’s necessary for senior citizens, who are usually very attached to traditional systems, to open their minds to using technology so that they can personally experience its benefits.
They believe we should look for ways to make use of technology, to see that it facilitates many things, especially communication with family and friends who live in other cities or countries, and to overcome existing prejudices.
“We must accept that we’re not from this era, and everything is changing from day to day, so we have to be prepared to learn,” says Rosa.
“Learning new things helps our brain cells. That’s why we must be open to learning how to use technology better,” Danielle says.
They both mention that the quickest way to learn is to approach family and friends, without getting embarrassed, and ask them to help us make better use of technological tools.
But they also add that an extra push from the government would be important. It could run communication campaigns to promote the use of technology by the elderly on television, for those who don’t use computers, and also create local courses about the use of information technologies to get senior citizens involved.
Both Danielle and Rosa agree in recommending to older adults that the adoption of technology doesn’t have to be “all in one go”, i.e. they shouldn’t feel pressure to learn to use everything at the same time.
On the contrary, they say that gradual progress can be made according to the needs and interests of each individual.
Rosa –for example– tells us that she still hasn’t used apps to buy food, although she has used them on two or three occasions to help some friends.
And in those cases, she’s asked for her daughter’s help to “not screw up” the process. But she acknowledges that buying online is not for her, so it’s something she doesn’t intend to adopt in a big way for now.
Danielle says that she doesn’t use mobile banking and is behind on that. She’s used it a couple of times for online transfers with somebody’s help. She says that she doesn’t understand the language used by banks, since she feels she might “do something stupid” or something that she shouldn’t, so she still feels unsure about using these types of platforms.
She also says that –in her case– she’s learned how to use Zoom, and that there are many other platforms for teaching, but she doesn’t feel any pressure to learn how to use them all, because knowing how to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and YouTube is enough for now to teach her classes effectively.
When it comes to shopping, both Danielle and Rosa feel more comfortable going to the supermarket to choose their own products.
Another example they give of gradually adopting technologies is that when it comes to social networks, they’re not interested in learning how to use Instagram or TikTok for now. On the contrary, they’re more interested in learning about Twitter and feel more comfortable using Facebook.
So, with these examples, they invite the elderly to approach technology according to their needs and interests, and not to feel the pressure of feeling obliged to learn how to use every single device or platform in the short term.
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The information available in Mexico shows that more and more senior citizens are adopting Information and Communication Technologies.
For example, The Competitive Intelligence Unit says that of those born in 1964 or earlier, the so-called Baby Boomers, 77% are smartphone users, 70% use mobile broadband services, and 49% make online purchases.
The most recent data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in its survey on the availability and use of information technologies, shows that more and more people aged 55 and above were beginning to use ICT before the pandemic.
Between 2015 and 2019, the number of Internet users in this age range went from 3.2 to 7.8 million people, an average annual growth of 25%. The number of cellphone users went from 9.4 to 13.8 million, an average annual growth of 10.2% during the same period. In terms of computer use, the number went from 2.8 to 3.7 million, an average increase of 7.1%.