Elderly Chinese having hard time catching up with smartphone craze

Updated 2018-05-09 11:20:01

○ Chinese seniors are eager to benefit from China's fast-growing mobile technology

○ NGOs hope to empower elderly smartphone users ahead of China's aging society

Mobile payment apps might be China's latest greatest invention among young smartphone-savvy urbanites, but for many older generations of Chinese, such newfangled technology only serves to make their lives more confusing.

A 66-year-old resident surnamed Wang from Taiyuan, North China's Shanxi Province, shared with the Global Times her horrible experience trying to use WeChat Pay for the first time for a taxi ride.

The senior woman had mistyped the 13.80 yuan (.17) fare as 1,380 yuan, forgetting to put in the decimal point. The taxi driver did not inform her of her mistake, and Wang was not alerted to it until one of her adult children checked her account, hours later.

Wang then tried to contact WeChat's customer service hotline to track down the taxi driver, only to be told that WeChat does not provide account information about other users due to privacy issues.

The expensive mistake, which has not been rectified, served to remind Wang that modern technology and "unreliable services" like mobile payment apps have no place in her life. For many young Chinese adults and even students, mobile phone apps have become a point of pride in the nation's technological advancement. Services such as WeChat Pay and Alipay have indelibly made daily life easier and faster.

But among the older generations of Chinese citizens, who grew up in the pre-digital era, where paper currency, paper ticketing and face-to-face service were a way of life, many feel sidelined by the rapid technological advancements.

"We are at just the right age to enjoy the conveniences brought by new technology, such as door-to-door delivery services. But I cannot handle all the complicated operations and features of online shopping," a 75-year-old resident of Beijing surnamed Bai told the Global Times.

"For people who grew up in the 1960s, we have made a lifelong contribution to our society, but now we feel abandoned by it. We look like foolish old guys who are always baffled by new gadgets," Bai added, staring enviously at the taxis passing her by. She knows that they are all reserved for young tech-savvy passengers wielding taxi-hailing apps and she has a slim chance of catching one from the side of the road.

Young mentors

Bai's statement begs the question many other Chinese seniors as well as tech companies and NGOs are now asking: Should a person who does not have a strong consumptive ability be eliminated by modern society?

In light of this concern, some NGOs in China have become an important force in calling for "equal rights and opportunities for everyone to benefit from mobile payments."

The SEE YOUNG Social Work Service Center, which aims to get China's elderly onto mobile services, is on a mission to help older generations harness technology quicker and safer.

A small group of tech-savvy young Chinese volunteers at SEE YOUNG regularly provide free computer training sessions and workshops for seniors about using mobile payment tools.

The volunteer students spend their spare time scattering into 200 communities throughout the country to help "drag" the older generation into the fast lane of computers, smartphones and digital devices.

In their wide spectrum of interactive sessions and one-on-one training courses given by the young mentors, the seniors are asked to use their own phones and devices.

"The elderly are particularly dependent on student volunteers. During summer breaks, they keep asking us when we will come back," SEE YOUNG coordinator Shi Qianqian told the Global Times. "That's why we are opening a new online channel that allows us to give instant responses to their pop-up questions."

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