Nation urged to facilitate the rise of ‘silver surfers’

Care professionals say seniors should be provided with classes to ensure they don’t get left behind in the internet age. Zhou Wenting reports from Shanghai.

Unlike her grandchildren, who use their mobile phones for everything from ordering food deliveries to booking travel products to reading, Shao Qinglan, 76, only uses her seven-year-old handset for one thing: making calls.

Every time the two generations are together, Shao feels they are living in completely different times and spaces. “They (her grandchildren) rely heavily on smartphones and the internet, which are part of a new age I don’t understand,” she said.

Many members of the older generation are used to shopping at brick-and-mortar grocery stores and paying with cash. They have been doing this all their lives, so they find it hard to break the habit, the retired teacher from Shanghai added.

“I feel that there is definitely a gap between the digital age and me, but luckily my daughter bridges it by helping me book appointments with the doctor on the phone and shop online,” she said. “Sometimes, when my daughter is too busy and does not have time to help me, I find it difficult to arrange an appointment or hail a taxi.”

She is not alone. Now that a whole range of services are only accessible via smartphone apps, many seniors feel they have been “left behind” in the internet age.

“A considerable number of elderly people don’t use the internet, and some people don’t even have a smartphone. Technologies aimed at making life easier are actually marginalizing this group,” said Zhang Guoxin, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, from Jiangxi province.

These services may also marginalize rural residents, most of whom are not tech-savvy, and the situation may widen the wealth gap between rich and poor, said Zhang, who is also principal of the Middle School Attached to Jiangxi Normal University in Nanchang, the provincial capital.

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