Left Behind in a Digital Age?

Rapidly developing technology has the potential to dramatically improve our lives by making communication easy or buying and selling fast and simple.  It can ease the physical burdens of daily chores and help ensure our homes and vehicles are safe.  But as the older population worldwide continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, many seniors are struggling to stay current with today’s technology.  And nowhere is this dilemma more apparent than in fast-growing economies that embrace technology like China. 

According to a recent CNN report, China’s fast-paced technological revolution has left older adults struggling to keep up with changing ways of purchasing goods, paying bills and ordering transportation.  In many large cities residents solely rely on digital technology to pay for all the expenses of daily life; using physical currency is quickly becoming obsolete.  And seniors are frustrated they may not be able to catch on to the use of technology as quickly as their younger counterparts. 

Technology is extremely convenient for those who know how to optimize it but for those who are coming to digital technology late in life, the learning curve is steep and can be overwhelming. Classes are becoming more popular in senior’s community centers and residences in the United States, Canada the UK and in developing countries. Younger volunteers spend time teaching older adults how to navigate online banking, social media or ride hailing apps.  And as this age demographic continues to grow over the coming 20 to 30 years, the economy will increasingly rely on the buying power of the older generation to thrive. 

Investing in education to keep older adults in step with technology not only will help drive the economy and allow seniors to move more easily through their day, it will help to connect our elders with their communities and lessen the loneliness of social isolation.  Seniors in rural areas who live alone and cannot drive are at increased risk for isolation leading to depression.  Teaching seniors to confidently use technology helps relieve feelings of isolation or being left behind; and learning a new skill not only builds confidence, it can help protect the aging brain from cognitive decline.  

One caveat about living in a digital age; while technology can help improve the lives of older adults in many ways, it’s also important to remember the importance of face-to-face interaction.  A Facetime or Portal call is better than none but in-person, physical interaction is still hugely important at any age.  You never know, joining a smartphone learning class might be the modern equivalent of meeting the neighbors for coffee and Canasta.  Learning, socializing and staying digitally savvy all in one fell swoop!