Helping oldies bridge the digital divide is something we can all ...

Ideas

Helping oldies bridge the digital divide is something we can all do

We have a social responsibility to make information technology more accessible to the older generation

Stephan Geyer

The Covid-19-induced state of emergency, and the resultant precautionary measures, have put the social wellbeing and mental health of many older people (60 years and older) at risk. Social isolation, emotional loneliness, lack of social support and the avoidance of routine daily activities, such as going out to buy groceries, are the reality for many older pe ople. Access to digital devices could address many of these challenges. Unfortunately, digital inequality impedes many of the 727-million older people across the world from maintaining both close and peripheral social contacts, obtaining social support and attending to routine activities.

Since 1991, the International Day of Older Persons has been celebrated on October 1. The theme of the 2021 commemoration is “Digital Equity for All Ages”. In a recent report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicated that access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) plays “a fundamental role in creating environments that are suitable to promote healthy conditions and tackle the challenges that come with ageing by empowering older generations”.

SA has about 6-million older people, of whom an estimated 3,1-million live in poverty and rely on a grant (R1,890-R1,910 per month) to make ends meet. The most basic of digital devices — a smartphone — is unaffordable for most grant holders. Data costs in SA are exorbitant in comparison to many other developing countries. One gigabyte of data costs between R80 and R99 per month. Without data, numerous smartphone functionalities are inaccessible...

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