Iphone, smartphone (170967)
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Within a day of purchasing a new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, my father flicked his thumb, scrolled through the user interface, shook his head and said, “This is too hard.”

On a different occasion, my mother, who has mastered the basics of Facebook and YouTube, asked me if I could help her send an email because she didn’t know how.

My parents, former farmers and textile merchants from the Philippines, individuals nearing retirement age, struggle to grasp basic technology.

These types of incidents aren’t uncommon in the homes of a first-generation millennials. The Pew Research Center in 2016 reported an astonishing 41 percent of people over 65 are not using the internet. Of the 41 percent, 32 percent said that it was too difficult to learn, and 19 percent said that the costs associated with having a computer are too high.

The age of the digital native—children born into technology, resulting in a natural fluency—is without a doubt, a beneficial technological advance. However, the rate at which these advances emerge vastly outpaces the senior citizen’s ability to grasp them. Without basic tech fluency, care of these individuals becomes more difficult.

Technology should therefore become more integrated into elder care. But to achieve this integration, baseline fluencies should be developed to close the increasing technology gap.

What does the cliché ancient proverb say? Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.

The same idea applies here. Operate a computer or skim the internet for a senior citizen and he or she will thank you. But teach a senior citizen how to do it, and you provide an avenue of job exploration, knowledge and a sense of “freedom” that only the internet (and technology in general) can provide.

How is the federal government currently addressing this issue? By creating websites for the people who have no idea how to access them! Why learn how to operate a computer if aging.gov (a one-stop resource for families looking to allow seniors to live independent lives) can inform you how to support grandma and grandpa? Why learn how to use the internet when data.gov (data repository or elder citizens regarding aging statistics) is in place to provide support?

That isn’t to say that initiatives currently in place do not assist senior citizens in terms of technology. A standout among these initiatives is one that is currently updating 15,000 nursing homes to professional tech and service standards. However, this form of tech assistance does not focus on the empowerment of senior citizens. Rather, it focuses only on the prolonging of life. This nation believes in the ideology that the pursuance of knowledge is a priority, but why then does the government place an age limit on learning?

Compare this attitude to the initiative taken by the private sector. Uber announced pilot programs in five states that will provide free technology tutorials as well as free and discounted rides to elders to support senior mobility. Airbnb is currently partnering with communities to research better ways to serve senior citizens. Walgreens has begun implementing advances in digital technologies that connect the elderly to their telehealth services provider, which gives 24/7 access to U.S. board certified doctors.

The distinction between the federal and private viewpoints stems from their envisioned goals. The 2017 fiscal budget allocated $4 billion for the Computer Science for All Initiative to advance computer program literacy in younger demographics. The federal government, for the most part, is investing in the younger citizens to maintain high levels of digital learnedness in the long term. In taking this approach, they discount the need for senior citizen tech knowledge. The private sector, on the other hand, has identified the importance of a tech-fluent senior citizen (aside from their monetary market niche) and is attempting to utilize technology to assist elders in their lives.

Although life-saving technologies such as Life Alert and digital blood monitors are very effective, they only focus on critical alert mechanisms (i.e., near-death, life-altering moments.) The ability to use technologies as they develop allows for learning provisions akin to those that exist for the digital native. The establishment of a base fluency would provide the steppingstone for further tech usage that may affect the user’s quality of life.

Instead of looking at senior citizens as a fading demographic in our society, we have to acknowledge the possibility of senior citizen reintegration into the workforce having—all things considered—a positive impact in the country.