Friday, January 22News For London

Silver surfers during COVID-19: standing outside the digital-centered world

In UK, more than half of people aged 65 and above (54%) had to turn to online shopping.

During lockdown, digital technology set up a lifeline connecting people with the outside world. Online shopping, video calls, and virtual payments greatly support their daily living and well-being at home. However, for a large number of senior citizens, it is the bottomless digital divide opposite conveniences.

Photo credited by The People’s Daily/ edited by Ningjing Fan

A report by the Office for National Statistics indicates 2.5 million over-75s still had never used the internet in 2019. Under the influence of the epidemic, with more than half of people aged 65 and above (54%) had to turn to online shopping. In fact, the milestone development of this generation is not progressing smoothly.

55-minute wait

Photo credited by Isabel Ealand, Coleman’s granddaughter

Gu Coleman (80), a fresh online shopper told us: “I explained that I was 80 and my husband was 83 not to no avail”.

She added that she tried to buy food from an online platform for a supermarket chain. However, it took her 55 minutes to wait for the guidance of local branches and helplines.

Technical barriers may also affect the mental health of the elderly.Facing technical obstacles, Coleman said: “ I was very disgruntled and upset, it seems like I have been left behind by the times.”

At this special period, timely and considerate online services and flexible payment methods have become important decision-making factors for senior customers.

*Paull, (68) a passerby in Wardour Street expressed that she prefers local shops to supermarkets. She told us: “They are happy to take cash as well as card, they are happy to get the business.”

Coleman has been doing her weekly shopping at the same supermarket since 1970. After spending nearly a month failing to apply for a slot online, she changed her mind and chose to buy groceries from another shopping website. She added: “They have lost a very loyal customer spending over 100 pounds every week.”

She believed the staff and delivery drivers of the new supermarket are more patient to old people: “Needless to say, I shall remain their dedicated shopper.”

Indefinite lockdown

The same situation is happening in another country. In China, nearly 200 million elderly people aged 60 and above have never been exposed to the Internet.(source: Statistical Report on Internet Development in China)

In order to control the spread of Covid-19, Chinese residents must carry their smart phones at all times since the mandatory implementation of national health QR code system. Those elderly who can not use digital devices seem to have been sentenced to an indefinite lockdown.

Wang Huifang, Chinese resident told us: “My mother (70), has not been out for more than half a year. She used to exercise regularly in the park. Now she can hardly enter most public places.”

Wang Huifang’s mother then and now pictures: long-term stay at home makes her older. Credited by Wang Huifang

Age UK, the leading charity for older people, calls on public and private service providers to develop appropriate alternative methods to access basic services and support for those elderly who cannot get online.

Paull described the current life of the elderly who are struggling with technology:“We are not alive, we are just existing!”

*Real name not given as interviewee wished to be anonymous.