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The old face digital ageism

June 24,2019
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[PARK JONG-GWON]
LEE SO-A

“Don’t buy it. I’ll send it to you.”

In an age where everything is done via smartphones, I have become a daughter who shops for my parents. Even big shopping malls cannot compete with online retailers in terms of price and products.

While the digital information gap has always existed, the digital alienation of seniors is notable in Korea, where the population’s aging and economic digitalization have both accelerated. For holidays, the young quickly buy train tickets through apps, while seniors get in line in the morning to buy standing tickets.

If you don’t use apps, it is difficult to buy movie or concert tickets for a preferred time and seat. Various discounts and promotions for retailers are also only available through apps. Seniors are practically discriminated against economically.

The problem is that digital unmanned services are rapidly becoming the trend not just in certain industries but in our daily lives — like grocery shopping, dining, culture, medical service, banking and public transportation. As local banks are reducing the number of branches with tellers, the era of bankbooks is expected to end in September 2020.

Our society emphasizes digital financial education and smartphone usage training for seniors. Yet education alone is limited. One can learn skills, but being fluency to the point of comfort is a different matter altogether. Those who grew up with smartphones as a part of their lives from an early age and septuagenarians who first saw computers in their middle age are different.

It is stressful for old people to learn and to be good at something they are unfamiliar with, especially as their vision worsens. The alternative is simple: In the digital era, good offline stores and reception systems should be maintained, especially for the areas directly related to daily life and quality of life. Similar perks and discounts should be offered to seniors and products should reflect trends and be diversified, instead of maintaining nominal offline establishments.

It should be realistic for all customers to buy products and services with the help of employees at digitalized stores. Rather than urging companies to create jobs, the government must offer subsidies and assistance to help companies continue operating offline shops as an innovative, tolerant country.

The author is an Innovation Lab reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.