“I’m older, not an idiot.” This is how a recent report on the digital divide and the elderly, following the wave of closure of bank branches. This is a phenomenon we know well: in Catalonia, two out of three bank branches have closed since 2008. In Barcelona, where a third of those over 74 have never used the internet, the consequences are severe for the quality of life of older people.
we build a digitization model that is not suitable for senior citizens. We saw it with administrative transactions during the pandemic: from the minimum vital income to the covid certificate. In the case of vaccination, for example, the digital divide has been identified as one of the main causes of a two-speed vaccination in Barcelona. Relying solely on digital procedures generates inequalities.
We know that in Barcelona more than half of the households in the city that are not connected to the internet are people aged 75 or older. And we also know that only a third of this age group performed online procedures during the first months of the pandemic.
We can not afford a digitization that dehumanizes public services. Interaction with the Administration could not be more difficult, especially for those who need it most. In short: no digitization process should be carried out without including the perspective of the most vulnerable people.
We also know that two out of every three people over the age of 74 in Barcelona have a smartphone with an internet connection. They use the internet for purposes other than younger people: more focused on social relationships, on entertainment. Less complex uses, but uses nonetheless. We need to address the digital gap affecting older people from the point of view of dignity, and recognize them as individuals who are able to learn.
The current digitization model reinforces existing social inequalities. Addressing its impact on older people is for all of us. Also in the banks, which is the necessary transmission band for the pensions of our grandparents. But it is clear that we have an extra responsibility from the institutions when we apply digital policies that do not generate exclusion for the elderly.
We need more research on older people and digitization. The case of the study on the digital divide of the City Council is a good example of this: the survey conducted in 2020 did include those older than 74 years. But the previous one, from 2016, did not. He left them out. We need to know the relationship of our grandparents with technology more and better to be able to respond appropriately to your needs.
Digital processes must incorporate human guidance. It is clear that the digitization of services can increase the efficiency of public resources, but it can not be at the expense of leaving certain social groups without access. We need to be able to offer face-to-face alternatives to the processes that are being digitized. For example, Placing ICT agents in municipal offices of the most vulnerable neighborhoods to accompany citizens in conducting online procedures. Or host in municipal offices ATMs of banks that close offices in the city, as we recently suggested from the municipal government. It is not about renouncing innovation, but about humanizing it.
We need specific digital training programs, with personal attention and policies aimed at autonomy, not dependency. Policies focused on the dignity and recognition of the abilities of the elderly. This is what we do with the Connectem Barcelona pilot program: provide vulnerable groups of Trinitat Nova with free connections and computers, and accompanying trainers, with the aim of transforming their relationship with technology.
Carlos San Juan, the author of the sentence that opens this article, made it very clear: we need “more humane treatment of bank branches.” I would go further: we need to humanize the digital transformation.
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