Bridging the digital divide? It can start with you.
There are two well-known trends in Singapore. One, the country is in the midst of transforming itself into a Smart Nation, harnessing technology to improve the standard of living. Two, its population is ageing, with life expectancy growing and birth rates remaining low.
These factors have given rise to worries about the digital divide, where seniors become unable to navigate a world where technology is increasingly prominent. Even as we digitalise and enjoy the benefits of tech, commentators have pointed out that it is important to ensure that those who are unfamiliar with tech are not left behind.
Short on time? Find out how applications like Singpass can help bridge the digital divide.
Why talk about it now?
Of course, the digital divide is not a new phenomenon and it has received attention over the years, such as in this article back in 2017.
But the challenge has taken on greater urgency since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, supercharging the pace of digitalisation. Nearly three in four businesses in Singapore have sped up digitalisation efforts and with the virus still rampant globally, digitalisation of business processes will continue and are likely to become permanent.
In a world of social distancing, everyday undertakings such as going to the bank become a greater chore, what with the wearing of masks and longer queues. Those who are not comfortable with online transactions will have to endure these discomforts. And should circuit breakers become necessary again, they will not have the entertainment (video streaming), communication (video calls), and convenience (food delivery apps) available to the digitally savvy.
As more activities shift online, bad actors are seeing more opportunities to strike, with the total number of scam cases reported to the police in 2020 rising by more than 60 per cent compared to 2019. As a result, those who are already not confident about their digital skills face the worry of falling victim to fraud, further turning them off technology.
Difficulties that seniors face using tech
Firstly, many of the tech tools we take for granted are not simple to the elderly. Using a mouse to move the cursor may not be intuitive to them and they may initially struggle with how to even grip a mouse, akin to how the steering wheel is tricky for beginner drivers. Poor vision and lack of fine motor skills also make the use of smartphones a chore rather than a pleasure.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, seniors must see a reason to go online in the first place. For instance, many internet users view the latest blockbusters and TV series on streaming services. But if such programmes don’t appeal to the senior in question, be it due to language or taste preferences, then they might not see the point of going online. Similarly, if their friends and social networks are not online, the internet would seem to be a boring place.
Building a bridge
Efforts are being made to bridge the digital divide by the government under the Seniors Go Digital programme.
For instance, the government set up SG Digital Community Hubs islandwide last year staffed with digital ambassadors to provide one-to-one assistance. The hubs are aimed at seniors and hawkers to help them pick up common apps like SingPass and WhatsApp, and to set up e-payment tools. You can find a list of the hubs here.
To tackle the lack of digital access, the Mobile Access for Seniors scheme provides subsidised smartphones and mobile plans for seniors who want to go digital but cannot afford to do so.
Loved ones make the biggest difference
Ultimately, those closest to the seniors are the ones who can make the biggest difference. Family members especially can help seniors build interest in online activities and by being there to guide them.
Form a family chat group in chat apps and get the elderly involved in online conversations. Better still, video call them regularly so they have a reason to keep their skills fresh. After all, whatever they pick up in that hour-long lesson will soon be forgotten if they don’t use them.
So if you have elderly family members and you’re reading this, just remember that you can With patience and constant engagement, you can do your part in bridging the digital divide in Singapore.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/bridging-the-digital-divide