I made a little blunder the other day.

Last week, I wanted to get tickets to the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay (GBTB) for my younger daughter’s birthday on Nov 11.

I had seen an offer on a travel site for a bundle deal that was cheaper than the standard prices listed on GBTB’s website.

“Okay, good deal,” I thought.

But when the day came to buy the tickets online, I forgot to check for new promotions by GBTB.

Incidentally, Nov 11 is also Singles’ Day – a big shopping event for e-commerce. So on that day, GBTB had a 1-for-1 promotion for tickets to the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.

Needless to say, I was frustrated to have to pay more. The experience was a pain, not just for my wallet but the fact that I know it was a user problem and not a technical one.

The slip-up made me think. I’m as comfortable with technology as any millennial who has grown up with computers and yet I was still overwhelmed by the number of options available online.

It made me appreciate the difficulties older Singaporeans face and made me ashamed of the times when I had been impatient with my parents when they asked me to teach them how to use the numerous apps on their gadgets.

Singapore’s quest to go digital

Asian senior woman is being worried with new message on her phone
Image source: Shutterstock / Kittichai

On Nov 7, the Straits Times reported that about 8,100 of Singapore’s stallholders have gone digital by adopting e-payment systems as of last month under the Hawkers Go Digital scheme.

It is part of our country’s efforts to be digitally inclusive.

Unsurprisingly, efforts to go virtual have been ramped up during this Covid-19 period, since contactless or online shopping has become part of the new normal.

But how are our seniors coping in Singapore’s quest to go digital?

This month alone, three seniors have written into the Straits Times Forum to talk about the issue.

In his letter, Paul Chan shared that telcos switching to remote sales and paperless transactions have caused elderly customers like him great difficulty and anxiety. He was of the opinion that telcos should provide a hard copy of the phone contract instead of an electronic one.

He wrote, “As an octogenarian, I had great difficulty recalling the details of the transaction, and I struggled to navigate Singtel’s webpages.” Singtel has since reached out to him.

Empathising with Paul, Joachim Sim agreed that “one-size-fits-all” digital solutions posed challenges for the elderly.

He wrote in a follow-up letter, “It is hardly possible for many seniors to keep pace with the relentless march of information and communications technology, even with good intentions and determined efforts.”

Agreeing to the sentiments, Lorna Khoo questions if the digitalisation push is in the interest of seniors or just for the convenience of the companies.

She wrote in a separate forum letter, “While speed or convenient access to financial data might be priorities for younger people, they are not necessarily our priorities.

“As seniors, our memory and eyesight do not work as well as they used to. We have trouble viewing and remembering the many digits of the one-time passwords sent to us.

“Our fingers are not nimble or steady enough to target those numbers on our phones or laptops when required. We might not be able to do what is required within the time limit that we are given. We might not have younger people to help us.”

These seniors who have written in about their concerns about paperless contracts and financial transactions are well spoken and literate seniors.

I can only imagine the challenges my dad – who only has a Primary 6 education – and my mum – who only holds a technical certificate – must go through. What about the problems faced by many other elderly folks who fall through the cracks?

A friend of mine told me that when he volunteers to befriend elderly Singaporeans who live in lower-income housing, the social workers sometimes are handed stacks of mail – documents written in English – by the beneficiaries to translate and explain. Imagine if these physical documents weren’t sent to them and they didn’t have the technical know-how or technological confidence to check their own bills online?

It is good to go paperless to save the environment. And Singapore has always leveraged on technology to get ahead. Technology is and will continue to be a large and growing part of our lives, whether we like it or not. The trick is how to help Singaporeans, especially our seniors, like it – or at least dislike it less.

Helping seniors in journey to digitalisation

Asian woman teach senior use credit card and phone for online shopping
Image source: Shutterstock / Nattakorn_Maneerat

In September, Singtel announced a $3 million community care package to help seniors learn more about tech tools and skills, and help small and medium-sized enterprises digitalise their operations.

The telco will partner social services agencies such as Thye Hua Kwan and NTUC Health to sponsor upgrades at Senior Activity Centres at HDB void decks. These upgrades include wifi connections, TV ethnic content (Chinese, Malay and Indian) and tablets to facilitate virtual engagement and help seniors build confidence in using digital devices. These Senior Activity Centres islandwide will be transformed into digital hubs where infocomm is integrated as a tool to promote active ageing.

The Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassador programme, introduced eight years ago, also appoints seniors as ambassadors of digital lifestyles in the hope of inspiring more of their peers to adopt practices such as using e-payment methods and shopping online.

Various ground up movements such as Sure Anot have also stepped up to contribute, with some promoting media literacy and others helping to teach people how to use tech.

All these initiatives fall under the Seniors Go Digital movement, and to date, more than 36,000 seniors have been engaged in learning digital tools and skills.

Do more for seniors in our community

Old Asian father and son. Young man teaches an elderly father to use a mobile phone
Image source: Shutterstock / Thannaree Deepul

Even with all these various programmes to help seniors, we can do more as a community to look out for our seniors. Checking up on our parents, and even our elderly neighbours can help to ensure that seniors do not feel left behind in a world that is moving faster than ever before.

In the same Nov 7 report by the Straits Times, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran noted that it is not enough to just identify target groups and initiate programmes for them. Attention must be paid to their specific needs, such as ensuring that materials for seniors are available in all four languages or that volunteers and officers can speak dialects to elderly hawkers.

It is also a relief that Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan has announced that there will be arrangements to help seniors redeem and use their digital SingapoRediscovers vouchers worth $100 when the scheme begins next month.

The Singapore Tourism Board will work with the People’s Association to set up physical counters at up to 66 community centres, with each housing estate having at least one.

After my boo-boo, I don’t know if I’ll need to pay a visit to my community centre in December to redeem the vouchers, but I’ll definitely remember to show more empathy when my mum or dad asks for help next time.

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