How to close the digital gap for the elderly

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ella Kidron, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Affairs, & Vivian Yang, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Affairs, JD.COM

  • China’s ageing population makes it important the country digitally enables the elderly.
  • Globally, tech companies are trying to train the elderly up, giving in-store support with digital payments.
  • Advanced technologies are being specifically adapted to the elderly, with a view to improving their quality of life.

Many young people have embraced the convenience of digital technologies such as online shopping, car hailing, digital payments, and telemedicine. But many elderly without a grasp of the latest knowledge are at risk of being left behind.

Several news reports in China during the outbreak of COVID-19 put this issue in the spotlight: an elderly woman who wanted to pay for her medical insurance with cash was refused due to concerns that her cash might be carrying the virus.

The woman, who had not set up mobile payment, was left alone in the service centre at a loss.

In another case, an elderly man without a phone was asked to get off the bus after failing to show the driver his health-status code via the app used at all public places in China.

These incidents are stark reminders of the widening digital gap for the elderly.

China: an ageing population puts a spotlight on the digital divide

The challenge is not unique to China, but it is particularly pressing for the country given the rapid transformation of its massive population of 1.4 billion into an aging society.

Around 2022, China is projected to become an “aged society” with 14% of the population above 65 years old – some 200 million people. It would typically take nearly a hundred years for many countries to reach this stage, while it will only have taken 21 years in China.

What’s even more staggering is that by 2050, the number of Chinese elderly is estimated to reach 380 million, amounting to nearly 30% of the country’s overall population.

With just a small population of the elderly online, more needs to be done to provide access and guidance before the problem exacerbates with the rapidly rising aging population.

Pandemic pushes the elderly out of offline comfort zone

According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), out of the 274 million mobile phone accounts of elderly users (those 60 years old and above) in China today, about 134 million are using smart phones to browse the internet. This means approximately 140 million still lack access to it.

The pandemic, however, has pushed a great number of elderly people online, in China and globally. The Chinese government issued plans in November last year to help elderly people overcome barriers to using smart technology.

Meanwhile tech companies, such as e-commerce company, are stepping up their efforts to ease the transition. Here are three major trends in this arena:

1. Taking online in-store

Brick-and-mortar stores have started to arrange assistants in dedicated zones to help elderly customers make sense of everything from digital payments to robot services. These are all services that many young people, who grew up with the internet from an early age, take for granted – but they can also be learned.

At JD’s omnichannel supermarket SEVEN FRESH, elderly customers are guided by staff to place grocery orders online, that are then delivered to their doorsteps at a specific time. Similarly, in JD’s offline pharmacy, customers can sit on a sofa inside the store and wait to collect their medicine, pay for it with the help of in-store assistants, and walk away with professional healthcare advice.

“We are keen to use and benefit from these new technologies, but getting to grips with them is no easy task for us,” said Ms Zhang, 78, an empty nester who tried to use a self-help health screening robot in a JD pharmacy store.

Her words speak to the difficulties many elderly people face. “By using this machine, I have not only experienced advanced technology, but also gained confidence,” said Ms Zhang, after having mastered the robot.

In terms of online services, many elderly customers shy away from voice systems or chatbots. In light of this, China’s top three telecom operators recently announced a speed-dial system to transfer users above 65 directly to human service personnel.

Furthermore, upon the request of MIIT, adaptive versions of more than 150 apps and websites in China are being built, featuring simpler interfaces, fewer pop-up adds and more anti-fraud support.

2. From louder smartphones to voice-activated home appliances

Tailormade smartphones play an important role in easing elderly people’s transition into the digital space. Phones with big buttons, larger font size and high-volume speakers have popped up recently.

Last year, JD launched China’s first 5G smartphone for the elderly in partnership with ZTE. The phone is equipped with services such as remote assistance, synchronised family photo sharing album and fast medical consultation services – handy for both the elderly and their children.

Importantly, it enables adult children to manage their elderly parents’ phones from afar – something that is becoming more necessary as families are increasingly separated by the demands of work in a location far from home. (JD data found that 70% of elderly consumers believe children are indispensable in their care process and 68% want to spend more time with their children, but this is not always possible.)

Besides customised smartphones, JD and other companies are exploring a variety of ways to adopt advanced technologies to improve elderly people’s lives.

These include: voice-activated IoT home appliances for users with limited mobility; an AI-powered speech recognition system that can communicate in a variety of dialects; and a big-data based health management system that can provide more accurate health advice.

3. Enabling the elderly a good investment for brands

Training goes a long way to abating the fear surrounding new technology. Last year, JD organised classes for the elderly on how to use digital devices, starting with basics like downloading apps, and increasing in complexity to cover how to line up for a hospital appointment virtually, scan QR codes and use mobile payments.

This has economic benefits too. With more and more elderly finding their footing in the digital world, they are adding fuel to the already booming silver economy.

During 2020, JD saw more elderly consumers start shopping online due to COVID-19; and they’ve kept up the habit since, appreciating the added convenience and plethora of choices. This has led the company to use big data to work on more products designed specifically for elderly consumers.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about ensuring access to the internet for all?

In 2018, internet connectivity finally reached over half the world’s population. Yet some 3.4 billion people – about 50% of the world’s population – are still not online.

Although much progress has been made in closing this digital divide, the challenge remains overwhelming, complex and multidimensional. It requires a collaborative, multistakeholder approach to overcome four key barriers to internet inclusion: infrastructure; affordability; skills, awareness and cultural acceptance; and relevant content.

The World Economic Forum launched Internet for All in 2016 to provide a platform where leaders from government, private-sector, international organizations, non-profit organizations, academia and civil society could come together and develop models of public-private collaboration for internet inclusion globally.Achieving Internet for All

Since its launch, Internet for All has achieved significant on-the-ground results globally – including launching four operational country programmes in Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina and Jordan.

Read more about our results, and ongoing efforts to ensure access to the internet for all in our impact story.

Contact us to partner with the Forum and shape the future of our digital economy.

But it’s about much more than just learning how to use the technology. With a better grasp of e-commerce, elderly parents are now turning around and making purchases for their children. Some are even joining flash sales campaigns, participating in the highly popular new phenomenon of group buying, and even grabbing digital red envelopes.

And, in diverting themselves from loneliness, especially during the pandemic, they are turning to livestreaming, short videos and singing apps for entertainment.

Behind these skills are newfound confidence, freedom and connection; the idea that they are “too old” or that “technology is just for young people” is simply a thing of the past.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

During the coronavirus pandemic, we must fight for LGBTQ rights more than ever

Final preparations for DCX and IFRA Expo 2019, in association with The European Sting

How two colossal Assyrian icons were recreated using digital tech

Libya: EU efforts should focus on protecting migrants, MEPs say

Difficulties of vaccination against COVID-19

EU takes again positive action on migration crisis while Turkey asks for dear favors in exchange for cooperation

Project Manager – 2024

Social media and the lack of information for blood donation

Commission welcomes provisional agreement on the European Climate Law

The EU to bear the cost of eventual sanctions against Russia

Saudi woman seeking asylum in Thailand ‘now in a secure place’ says UNHCR

A 550 km-long mass of rotting seaweed is heading for Mexico’s pristine beaches

Lack of investment and ambition means Youth Guarantee not reaching potential

This is the life of a refugee: the constant destruction and construction of dreams every day

This is where people live the longest in the EU

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work

European Green Deal: Commission presents actions to boost organic production

Green Deal: measures to step up the fight against global deforestation

These are the countries where most adults still don’t have a smartphone

It’s just electronic cigarette, don’t worry?

Historian Niall Ferguson on what the pandemic means for the global economy, geopolitics – and parties

Coronavirus response: Commission welcomes agreement on crucial VAT relief for vaccines and testing kits

Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Romanian Presidency priorities discussed in committees

EU is now giving Google new monopolies to the detriment of European citizens and Internet companies

Mexico: UN chief saddened by pipeline blast in which dozens were killed

The 28 EU leaders show contempt for the European Elections results

Thursday’s Daily Brief: ambulance attack in Libya, #GlobalGoals defenders, human rights in Cambodia, Swine Fever

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

This is how drones and other ‘tradetech’ are transforming international trade

Make no mistake: the purpose of business is to serve society

These are the top countries for travel and tourism in 2019

Rare Disease Day: a new EU platform to support better diagnosis and treatment

Spanish and Polish voters are crying out for an imminent European change while US urge now Germany to change route

EU co-ordinating the urgent delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Moldova

Why global collaboration is needed to protect against a new generation of cyber threats

Does upgrading our minds mean losing the spark of genius?

This Brooklyn farm company is training a new generation of urban farmers

Countries are piling on record amounts of debt amid COVID-19. Here’s what that means

A brief history of cryptography and why it matters

Yemen: €95 million in EU humanitarian aid for people threatened by conflict and famine

Parliament: No consent to EU budget until €11.2 billion unpaid bills are settled

Chinese tech investors are turning towards MENA. Here’s why

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

How our Europe will regain its strength: op-ed by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

From underestimation to valorization: how mobile technology is transforming global health

The Khashoggi affair: A global complot staged behind closed doors

Safe spaces offer security and dignity for youth, and help make the world ‘better for all’: Guterres

Smart city experts should be looking to emerging markets. Here’s why

Brazil identifies a clear pathway for aligning its transfer pricing framework with the OECD standard

The public health system in Brazil as a promoter of sexual and reproductive health and rights: how does it help in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Mountains matter, especially if you’re young, UN declares

At G20 Summit OECD’s Gurría says collective action vital to tackle global challenges

Top UN court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide

How fungi could save the world

Why South Africa is on a path of economic renewal

Rule of Law: Commission launches infringement procedure to protect the independence of the Polish Supreme Court

Supply chains are on the cusp of a data-fed revolution. Here’s how businesses can succeed.

Global warming: our responsibility

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s