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The importance of beginner tech fluency in senior citizens

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Within a day of purchasing a new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, my father flicked his thumb, scrolling through the user interface, shook his head, and said “this is too hard.”

On a different occasion, my mother, who has mastered the basics of Facebook and Youtube, asked me if I, “could help send an email [she] didn’t know how.”

{mosads}My parents, former farmers and textile merchants from the Philippines, individuals nearing retirement age, struggle to grasp basic technology.

This isn’t an isolated incident in the home of a first generation millennial. The Pew Research Center in 2016 reported an astonishing 41 percent of people over 65 are not using the internet. Of the 41 percent, 32 percent said that it was too difficult to learn, and 19 percent said that the costs associated with having a computer are too high.

The age of the digital native – children born into technology, resulting in a natural fluency – is without a doubt, a beneficial point of technological advance, however, the rate at which these advances emerge, vastly outpaces the senior citizen’s ability to grasp it. Without basic tech fluency, care of these individuals becomes more difficult.

Technology should, thus, become more integrated into elder care. But in order to achieve this, baseline fluencies should be developed in order to close the increasing technology gap.

What’s the cliche ancient proverb say? Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.

The same idea applies here. Operate a computer or skim the internet for a senior citizen, and they’ll thank you, but teach a senior citizen how to do it themselves, and you provide an avenue of job exploration, knowledge, and a sense of “freedom” that only the internet (and technology in general) can provide.

How is the federal government currently addressing this issue? By creating websites for the people who have no idea how to access them! Why learn how to operate a computer if (a one-stop resource for families looking to allow seniors to live independent lives) can inform you how to support Grandma and Grandpa? Why learn how to use the internet when (data repository or elder citizens regarding aging statistics) is in place to provide support?

That isn’t to say that initiatives currently in place do not assist senior citizens in terms of technology. A standout among these is one that is currently updating 15,000 nursing homes to professional tech and service standards. However, this form of tech assistance does not focus on the empowerment of senior citizens, rather, it focuses only on the prolonging of life. As a nation, there exists the ideology that the pursuance of knowledge is a priority, but why then, does the government place an age limit on learning?

Compare this to the initiative taken by the private sector. Uber announced pilot programs in five states that will provide free technology tutorials as well as free and discounted rides to elders to support senior mobility. Airbnb is currently partnering with communities to research better ways to serve senior citizens. Walgreens has begun implementing advances in digital technologies that connect the elderly to their telehealth services provider, which gives 24/7 access to U.S. board certified doctors.

The distinction between the federal and private viewpoints stems from their envisioned end- goals. The 2017 fiscal budget allocated $4 billion for the Computer Science for All Initiative to advance computer program literacy younger demographics. The federal government, for the most part, is investing in the younger citizens to maintain high levels of digital learnedness in the long term. In doing this they discount the need for senior citizen tech-knowledge. The public sector on the other hand, has identified the importance of a tech-fluent senior citizen is (aside from their monetary market niche) and is attempting to utilize technology to assist elders in their lives.

It is important to realize that while life-saving technologies like Life Alert and digital blood monitors are wildly effective, they only focus on critical alert mechanisms (ie: near death, life altering moments.) The ability to use technology as they develop allows for learning provisions akin to those that exist for the digital native. The establishment of a base fluency, would provide the stepping stone for further tech usage that may affect the user’s quality of life.

Instead of looking at senior citizens as a fading demographic in our society, we have to acknowledge that there exists the possibility of senior citizen reintegration into the workforce having – all things considered – a positive impact in the country. 

Aragones is a student at Baruch College majoring in Philosophy with double minors in Political Science and English. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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