China to promote the resolution of intelligent technology difficulties encountered by the elderly

Volunteers in Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province teach a senior citizen how to use QR code on October 24, 2020. Photo: CFP

Car-hailing, ordering food, reserving a doctor and scanning a health code, are part of life in the current intelligent era, but some of China’s elderly are facing unprecedented challenges because they cannot operate intelligent equipment skillfully.

The announcement by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs that promotes the resolution of intelligent technology difficulties encountered by the elderly in civil affairs services attracted public attention to provide more convenient access for the elderly and inspire the society to be more confident to confronting the aging problem.

By June 2020, the number of netizens in China has reached 940 million, with an internet penetration rate of 67 percent. However, only 10.3 percent of the netizens are over the age of 60, according to the 46th statistical report on the development of internet in China.

According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, people over the age of 60 account for 18.1 percent of China’s total population at the end of 2019. By this measure, over 100 million of elderly people are still unable to get on the Internet.  

“The government, society, internet enterprises and families should make integrated efforts to include the elderly in policy making, internet design and skill training in this intelligent era,” Lu Jiehua, professor of sociology with Peking University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Inconvenient digital life

“We were once the builder of this country, and it never occurred to me that one day I would be a drag of the society,” Zhan Lu, 71, from the nationally renowned oil city Daqing, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, expressed his sadness to the Global Times on Thursday.

“My son has taught me many times how to scan the QR code and show the health code. However, I remembered nothing when I went to the hospital last week,” Zhan said.

There were a lot of people queuing to get in the hospital building. Zhan was very anxious at that time and felt particularly sorry for wasting others people’s time.

Like many elderly, Zhan doesn’t know how to hail a car online and it’s now difficult to stop a taxi on the street. Zhan’s son has to hail a car online and tell his dad the car number, color and pickup location. As the communicator between the driver and his dad, he made at least five or six phone calls every time he helps his father get into a car.

The phones designed for the elderly on the market now only can answer calls, Zhan said, adding that he still hopes to use the smart phone so he can  use WeChat to communicate with children and browse their photos.

“I just hope that the mobile applications for taking a taxi and reading news can be designed to be easier to operate for the elderly,” Zhan said, adding that “more manual services should also be provided in public places such as hospitals and stations.”

Xi Furong, 72, who lives in Baoji, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, feels abandoned by the intelligent times. He has loved Qinqiang opera all his life, but doesn’t know how to buy a ticket now.

His daughter Yaya told the Global Times that her father had been to the theater twice but failed to pick up free opera tickets. She finally bought tickets online for her dad.

“My dad does not know how to pick up the online reserved ticket from the machine at the theater and hail cars online. I have to drive him there, exchange the ticket for him and pick him up after the show,” Yaya said.

Intelligent HelpAge

Zhan Lu and Xi Furong represent hundreds of millions of elderly Chinese who confront difficulties in life because they are unable to skillfully operate smart devices. China’s government, social groups and communities have made efforts to teach the elderly how to use computers and smart phones.

Beijing based social group See Young has been deeply involved in helping the elderly with technology for a decade. They organized undergraduate volunteers from more than 100 universities all over China to go to local communities and teach the elderly how to use smart devices one-on-one.

“The elderly people are highly motivated to learn, but their learning ability is relatively poor and they are forgetful. Volunteers teach the elderly over and over again how to use a browser and how to post messages to their relatives,” Shi Qianqian, a staffer of See Young told the Global Times.

When volunteers asked a senior to clean her computer for faster browsing, she replied that she wipes the dust on the screen every day. 

“When teaching older people how to use smart devices, we try to explain it in words that they can accept and understand,” Shi said.

The volunteer work not only benefits the elderly, but attracts more young people devoted to helping the aged, she noted.

Helping the elderly to follow intelligent tech development is not limited in teaching them how to use smart devices.

Lu Jiehua noted that from the formulation of public policies at the government level to the research and development of internet products, the needs of the elderly should be taken into full consideration. 

The age of intelligent tech has also brought about changes in family structure, which has caused psychological estrangement among the elderly. The family should give the elderly more face to face company, Lu said.

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