Elderly Left Behind in Korea's Digital Transformation

      November 21, 2023 08:25

      Korea is one of the most online societies in the world with a smarphone penetration of some 95 percent, but many elderly people are being left behind as the country marches blithely into the future.
      According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, the digital literacy of senior citizens rose, with the use of smart devices rising from 63.1 percent in 2018 to 69.1 percent in 2021, but that still leaves out nearly 30 percent.
      The ability of senior citizens in Korea to handle digital devices has improved as the elderly population reaches 10 million. But advances in mobile services and smart devices simply outpace the ability of many elderly people to learn how to use them.
      Experts said the extremely short time that it took for Korea to shift from an analog to a digital society made it hard for senior citizens to keep up. Kim Young-seon at Kyunghee University said, "It has become a necessity rather than a choice over the past few years for senior citizens to learn to use digital devices." And Choi Moon-jung at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology adds, "Getting senior citizens to use digital devices is like forcing them to suddenly speak English after speaking Korean for 70 to 80 years."  
      An elderly woman tries to buy a ticket from a self-service machine at a bus terminal in Seoul on Oct. 16.
      One big problem is managing their money as banking moved online at breakneck speed without a decent period of adjustment. Experts say there is a lack of alternatives to cushion senior citizens against the changes.
      A good example is that many public buses across the country no longer accept cash. Moon Song-chun at KAIST said, "Technology should offer more choices instead of excluding them. We should have gone in the direction of allowing both cash and credit cards for a period of adjustment, but such considerations were completely ignored." 
      Jun Sang-in at Seoul National University said, "There is a huge gap in digital literacy even among senior citizens depending on their economic status. Rather than focusing training on tech-savvy senior citizens, the government should pay more attention to supporting the elderly who are not adept at using smart devices." 
      He said restaurants and other stores that use self-service kiosks, for example, should have employees ready to assist senior citizens who do not know how to use them.
      More patience is also needed. "Senior citizens need repeated training in order to use smart devices confidently," said Chung Soon-dul at Ewha Womans University. And Seok Jae-eun at Hallym University said, "The speed of digital transformation is difficult to control, so we need to create a social atmosphere of supporting those who are being left behind."  
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