Technology lag takes a toll on Chinese elderly

By Xu Hailin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/14 20:28:40

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT

She stood there checking Nova 4 smartphones, rather peering into Huawei's latest offering at a store in Beijing. Through the graying strands that fell in front of her eyes, she inspected the handsets while repeatedly asking the salesman the difference between 4G + 128G written on the information manual, and 5G - she didn't know it denotes a network. Although the salesperson and I explained it to her, she still looked confused. 

I don't know if the elderly woman decided to buy the phone, but I'm sure she is not the only one overwhelmed by technology jargon which has become part of our digital lives in recent years.

Along with the rapid pace of technological change in the country, the Chinese people, especially those living in urban areas, enjoy an increasingly convenient lifestyle. They can live a cashless life using mobile phones to make payments in almost every store and street stall, to get queue numbers for popular restaurants before reaching there, and to ride the metro, just to name a few. Though most people have embraced the change, there are some given to what can be called "technology distress syndrome," which makes them a victim of tech lag. It is hard for ageing people to keep pace with a tech world in transition. 

My mom, in her early 50s, experienced the technological boost in China earlier than most Chinese did. We got a computer about 20 years ago, and not long after that my mom became one of the first batches of internet surfers. She really enjoyed navigating the web pages and learning the nuances of the vast web world. After the smartphone era arrived, she was smart enough to learn to use WeChat, take selfies using apps like BeautyCam, and then post the photos on her WeChat moments. 

A relatively experienced smartphone user, my mom looked excited and a bit nervous when I bought her a new Huawei last month. During the first two days, she asked me thrice how to take a screen grab, how to download apps from the app store, and what this or that function was for - though I couldn't answer all her questions.

More than once, I have seen the elderly wrestle with their smartphones when they want to scan a QR code or make a purchase with electric coupon as they don't know how to call out the exact function with simple pokes. Until my mother began to encounter similar difficulties, I never realized how some old people struggle to learn fast-changing technology concepts.

We cannot blame the relentless march of technology moving at a dizzying pace. We have benefited a lot from it and we have to bear the side effects. Luckily, we can do something before an effective way is figured out to balance elderly people's needs due to weak adaptability and tech firms' need of innovation.

We, as children and grandchildren, can do our best to help parents and grandparents gradually master the skill of coping with the internet and smartphone. It could take a while, but believe me, it is worth the effort.

I was once too reluctant and impatient to teach my parents to surf the internet or play a game on the iPad. But now their happy expressions make me happier. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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