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Now it is the time to let the elderly take advantage of the web

Menno van Doorn
March 31, 2020

Now that public life is at a stand still and physical contact with friends and family is hardly possible, everyone is looking for each other via the internet. From now on, so-called social distancing will become distant socializing.

A digital drinks evening, netflixing together or a church service via the screen. Where scientists criticized social media before the crisis, this is now the only way to keep it bearable. We need to help the vulnerable group of elderly people who do not have internet access as of yet. Let’s make tablets available so that older people can get a glimpse into the daily lives of their children or grandchildren.

In front of the webcam, enjoy each other’s company and a glass of wine. In Japan this has already been named a so-called On-Nomi, online drinking. And cloud clubbing is a virtual party where DJs perform live sets on apps like TikTok. The audience dances along in the living room and follows reactions via the smartphone. The funny thing is that it is all so natural and clumsy. It is nothing like the approach of the professional, sleek and streamlined online business seminars. Everyone looking into each other’s living room, raising the glass while fumbling with the technology.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of sociology at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, warned years ago that social media actually makes people antisocial, losing the art of real conversation; that the ubiquitous mobile technology leads to the rise of an ‘alone-together’ phenomena where children, colleagues, partners and friends, at home or in a public environment, make less spontaneous contact with each other. In-depth one-on-one conversations are also becoming more economical. Turkle calls it ‘the new silence’.

But now that public life is necessarily silent, the silence is broken by connecting with each other online, working and playing together. Social distancing, being apart only by two meters is emotionally a much bigger distance. But thanks to technology in the living room, people are still very close to each other and distances melt like snow in the sun.

The severity of the pandemic, of course, does not change with the massive resort to the Internet. Everyone greatly misses the physical proximity of friends and family. At the same time, the crisis shows that the intrinsic desire for contact, sharing experiences and supporting each other is greater than ever.

The challenge remains to bridge the digital divide between young and old and to devise ways to transform Turkle’s ‘new silence’ into remote real conversations. Everyone is now discovering how that works. Human contact is indispensable. The streets are quiet. But the internet is busier than ever.

About the author

Director and Trend Analyst VINT | Netherlands
Menno is Director of the Sogeti Research Institute for the Analysis of New Technology (VINT). He mixes personal life experiences with the findings of the 19 years of research done at the VINT Research Institute. Menno has co-authored many books on the impact of new technology on business and society.


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