Older people and trapped in the digital abyss: “As much as they want, they can’t” | Technology | The USA Print

“Passive euthanasia is that we have to make an appointment for everything. Passive euthanasia is that we try to request that appointment by phone and a machine answers us ”, says the letter that Asunción Manresa Mira sent to the director of this newspaper last week. The 78-year-old woman considers “assisted death” the burden of living in the digital abyss. A cry for help that she shares with at least a fifth of the Spanish population. Adults over 65 years of age are the ones who have seen, to a greater extent, passively, bank branches, Administration procedures and the relationship with the doctor, become a mobile application. A device where the letters and numbers are tiny, the terms are unknown, or in which there is not always a human on the other side. There are many, like Asunción, who ask for help because now they depend on their children, grandchildren or other people to do for them what they do not understand or are not capable of doing.

According to a report from the National Observatory of Technology and Society, 64% of the Spanish population has at least basic digital skills. A figure that is ten points above the average in Europe, but still far from reaching the objective of the European Commission, which is 80% by 2030. But regarding age, the gap skyrockets: only 27% of Adults between 65 and 74 years old have basic skills, such as the ability to search and interpret information on the screen, communicate through digital tools or use them to solve problems of daily life.

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The Expertclick workshop, from the Fundación Cibervoluntarios, is one of the initiatives to rescue those trapped in the digital divide. The assistants gradually arrive in the classroom of the Fraternidad de los Cármenes Neighborhood Association, in Madrid, and place their smartphones, a notebook and a pen. Some bring the notes from the last meeting or doubts they have had during the week. All of them, women over 60, have taken the first step to discover the world of technology, lose their fear of mobile phones, learn to navigate the Internet and, who knows, even manage the health center. When the volunteer Mar Rosell questions “do you have any doubts?”, the questions pile up.

“I had to go get the security thing taken off me.” Because the numbers came out so small, that I could hardly see it well. For me it is more comfortable to lift the screen and that’s it — admits one of the assistants.

—Are we going to learn how to put a telephone in emergency? – asks another.

—Sorry, it has come out to me that there has been a change in the terms. Also, it’s because she has disappeared from me… The camera was fixed here and now she’s gone from me,” interrupted Antonia, 77 years old.

“You’ve probably had a system update or something.” When they tell you to accept the terms you have to see if it is an application where you have entered and if you want to keep it or not. If it is general, you have no choice but to accept it—answers the volunteer.

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“Have I changed them?”

Antonia is restless. When things disappear, or messages come out that she doesn’t understand where they come from, she gets overwhelmed because she doesn’t know what’s happening on the screen. What she does know is adding new contacts and she “handles WhatsApp very well”. “But whatever… What is it called?” She thinks for a few seconds, “the applications, it’s too complicated”, she continues. Her classmates, a dozen, ask each other and the volunteer. So all at once. They are doubts and vents of those who feel suffocated by not knowing how to use the mobile as they would like. Antonia also does not have Wi-Fi at home and she only connects when she goes to places like the association.

“Do you need it?”

“No, I don’t want to complicate my life,” he confesses.

Attendees of the Expertclick workshop at the La Fraternidad Neighborhood Association, in Los Cármenes, Madrid.
Attendees of the Expertclick workshop at the La Fraternidad Neighborhood Association, in Los Cármenes, Madrid.santi burgos

The various barriers to inclusion

Rejection, saying “I don’t want to” or “I don’t need it”, is usually one of the first barriers they face when approaching technology. Then there is the dependence on someone to help them with time and dedication. This is what Mar Rosell and other volunteers from the foundation offer. José Manuel Moro Picado, a 66-year-old retired computer scientist, has already supported some 300 people in towns near Valladolid. According to his account, many of the attendees thank him because sometimes their own families do not have the patience. And ignorance breeds fear. “When you give him a smartphone to a person who has never had it, he is totally unaware of it. That they understand that is what costs us the most ”, he explained to EL PAÍS by telephone.

Added to these difficulties are the physical limitations of age, such as loss of sight and hearing. There is also the language, which is often words or phrases that they have never heard before. They find it difficult to understand what the “terms and conditions” are, the “security PIN” or why they have to reject the “cookies unwished”. “There are things that I don’t understand, I’m alone at home and I don’t know how to do it. Also, I don’t risk messing around because I can delete it. And then I don’t remember, ”says Berta, 77, who handles paperwork and banking very well,“ but without a telephone ”.

María, 61 years old, is the youngest of the group. She has come to the workshop because she “needs to learn” to navigate the internet. She doesn’t want to make purchases online because she “feels a thing” to enter the card details. She also doesn’t get complicated with managing appointments at the health center, but yes, she wants to be able to buy a train ticket. “I have the application installed, but I don’t see it here. I don’t know if I have it somewhere, ”she points out as she scrolls from one side of her mobile screen to the other. For now, she says that she goes “directly to Renfe”, but she hopes that after the workshop she can plan her next trips without leaving home.

We always talk about the bureaucratic parts and it seems that we are only citizens (…) But technology is also to continue increasing knowledge, to be informed, to make your purchase.

Yolanda Rueda, founder of Cibervoluntarios, maintains that a person who needs to ask for help to carry out an administrative procedure is in a situation of digital vulnerability. But beyond the paperwork, the other spheres of life, such as leisure or culture, have also moved to the screen. “We always talk about the bureaucratic parties and it seems that we are only citizens, we are seen as people who pay the Treasury, who have to do business online or request a medical appointment. But technology is also to continue increasing knowledge, to be informed, to make your purchase. That gives her autonomy and independence, ”adds Rueda.

María Ángeles Gutiérrez, 73, reports that the electronic means has become the only way to carry out the tasks and activities that she has done with other people throughout her life. “We have to catch up because we are further and further behind. You can’t go to banks. Everything is technology now,” she says. From transport to leisure, from culture to information, all on one screen. “I also have my phone connected to the watch, I see how I sleep or stress, I get WhatsApp, it marks the steps I have taken. Today 7650 ″, she continues. This year her son has given her an Alexa. “I ask her questions, for example, what is the temperature to find out what clothes I’m going to wear, if it’s going to rain… I also ask her to turn on the radio or TV,” she says by phone from Tudela de Duero, a town from Valladolid.

Likewise, he has participated in Cybervolunteers workshops and today he explores his mobile applications “without fear”. Use Youtube to see cooking recipes or sewing things, the maps to locate yourself when you go out and the camera to read the QR codes in restaurants. To the list of things that do or do have to be done with a mobile or computer, we can mention train, bus or plane tickets, which are sometimes almost impossible to buy in person, or transport through VTC applications, such as Uber, Bolt and Cabify, in cities where there are these services.

Gutiérrez considers himself an exception for someone his age and sympathizes with his colleagues who do not have the same abilities. “When you have to learn it, it’s very difficult, it’s not like when you were little, when you went to school and learned to read (…) There is a group of people who are not as advanced as me. As much as they want, they can’t. It’s complicated, ”she concludes.

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