Sil­ver surfers get smart­phone savvy Non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion helps se­niors stay young by teach­ing them how to in­ter­act and cre­ate con­tent

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

In a room at the ser­vice cen­ter of An­lelin Res­i­den­tial Com­mu­nity in Bei­jing, Fu Guil­ing and her neigh­bors fid­dle with touch screens, shak­ing their smart­phones while gig­gling.

Fu, 66, was in­tim­i­dated by mo­bile de­vices un­til she at­tended a course by See Young, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in Bei­jing, which de­fines its mis­sion as help­ing the el­derly to har­ness tech­nol­ogy.

Pic­ture and video shar­ing, on­line chat­ting and shop­ping may be easy for the younger gen­er­a­tion, but for China’s more than 230 mil­lion el­derly who grew up in a pre-digital age, tech­nol­ogy of­ten moves too fast for them to keep up.

“What’s the prob­lem with my phone? The screen has turned black. I can’t open it,” Fu said to a See Young vol­un­teer.

She was con­fused by the “screen lock” func­tion. Two weeks ago, her daugh­ter gave her an un­wanted Huawei smart­phone. Pre­vi­ously, she had never owned such a de­vice.

“I only know how to an­swer the phone,” she said, laugh­ing.

How­ever, the See Young course is teach­ing Fu and sev­eral of her neigh­bors the var­i­ous ways to use so­cial net­work­ing app WeChat, such as en­larg­ing the font, us­ing the “shake” func­tion and how to cre­ate group chats.

Since it opened its doors in 2011, See Young has helped more than 18,000 se­nior cit­i­zens across the coun­try and has more than 3,800 vol­un­teers, mostly univer­sity stu­dents.

“Every­thing started from my beloved grandma,” said Zhang Ji­axin, co-founder of See Young, which was de­vel­oped by a stu­dent vol­un­teer team at Bei­jing Univer­sity of Posts and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Born in a small town in North­west China’s Shaanxi prov­ince, Zhang was brought up by his grand­mother. In 2008, he went to univer­sity in Bei­jing, and the only way for his grand­mother to see him was through video calls.

“I taught her step by step, but she still failed to un­der­stand,” Zhang said. “I re­al­ized that there must be many grand­moth­ers in China who can­not op­er­ate com­put­ers and other mod­ern gad­gets, so I started See Young to make life eas­ier for se­niors.”

Ag­ing poses many chal­lenges — di­min­ished eye­sight, mem­ory loss, de­creased agility. Older peo­ple of­ten find them­selves iso­lated by mod­ern tech­nol­ogy that the rest of so­ci­ety finds in­dis­pens­able.

China had more than 230 mil­lion peo­ple age 60 or older at the end of last year, ac­count­ing for 16.7 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs. The coun­try’s el­derly will ac­count for about one-quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion by 2030.

Clos­ing the gap be­tween the el­derly and new tech­nol­ogy can be an ef­fec­tive way to solve many of the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with ag­ing, and can open up a whole new so­cial as­pect to the lives of se­niors.

Fu used to work at Bei­jing Enamel Fac­tory, which pro­duces cloi­sonne. Since retiring, she vis­its Bei­jing’s Tiantan (Tem­ple of Heaven) Park each morn­ing, be­fore go­ing to the veg­etable mar­ket and re­turn­ing home to make lunch.

“My daugh­ter was very busy. She in­stalled some apps for me, but had no time to show me how to use them. I’m a slow learner,” Fu said.

Fu stuck a small piece of paper on the back of her phone, with her screen name and phone num­ber writ­ten on it.

“I can’t re­mem­ber much, but tech­nol­ogy helps me con­nect with old friends. I feel young again,” she said.

The name See Young is de­rived from an an­cient Chi­nese poem that states, “The sun never rises twice in one day.”

How­ever, Zhang said that “learn­ing how to nav­i­gate the tech world stay young”.

Zhang Jin, a 61-year-old former phar­ma­cist, is learn­ing how to use shared bikes, man­age money on­line and cre­ate video con­tent. “In a rapidly de­vel­op­ing so­ci­ety, we are afraid of be­ing left be­hind by the young. So we must make ef­forts to get to grips with new tech­nol­ogy,” Zhang Jin said.

Sup­ported by gov­ern­ment funds and do­na­tions, See Young’s cour­ses cover mo­bile can help se­niors pay­ments, on­line hos­pi­tal reg­is­tra­tion, WeChat use and cre­at­ing video con­tent from images and mu­sic. Each course pro­vides a lec­turer and sev­eral vol­un­teers.

Wang Xiang­gui, a 22-yearold See Young lec­turer and ju­nior stu­dent with the univer­sity, said: “The kind of cour­ses given are based on our re­search. For ex­am­ple, as the older gen­er­a­tion trea­sures mem­o­ries of the past, we teach them how to use an app to dig­i­tal­ize old pho­tos.”

Digital groups also pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion on se­cu­rity. An­other co-founder, Luo Xu, said the el­derly are of­ten tar­gets for fi­nan­cial fraud, so they of­fer a class on what to be wary of.

The non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has pub­lished three books. It has also filmed 10 on­line cour­ses since July, help­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to or­ga­nize lessons and ac­tiv­i­ties with­out See Young’s par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“Our pri­or­ity is con­nect­ing the older gen­er­a­tion with tech­nol­ogy. We plan to cover more top­ics that they are pas­sion­ate about, such as cul­tural her­itage,” Luo said.

Wang said that in ad­di­tion to en­joy­ing an eas­ier life of­fered by tech­nol­ogy, some se­niors at­tend cour­ses just to chat to oth­ers and avoid lone­li­ness. Wang, an in­for­ma­tion engi­neer­ing ma­jor, plans to work for an in­ter­net com­pany af­ter grad­u­at­ing.

“Per­haps I will be able to help se­niors con­nect with tech­nol­ogy in an­other way, like in­vent­ing more se­nior­friendly digital tools,” he said.

I can’t re­mem­ber much, but tech­nol­ogy helps me con­nect with old friends. I feel young again.”

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