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O.K. boomer, watch us handle the crisis

Younger Koreans click for necessities, elders watch TV, wait in line

Mar 04,2020
[NEWS1]
The digital divide is just getting wider, or more obvious, as the coronavirus outbreak makes life in the analog world that much more challenging.

A gap has long existed between those who live online and those who fumble their way through websites and apps. The elderly especially are being left behind, as are those who still prefer the real over the virtual.

The gap was previously little more than a curiosity for most, a topic of discussion for the socially conscious, academics and policy wonks. It is now becoming a critical issue for many as they try to navigate daily life in a country transformed by the epidemic.

A 62-year-old housewife in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, stares intently at home shopping channels.

For her, this is the only way to buy face masks because they are sold out at discount stores and she doesn’t know how to shop online. She doesn’t even know how to check the informercial schedule and just sits in front of the TV all day waiting for a chance to dial and buy.

For many seniors, the only option is buying face masks at government-designated stores and at post offices. The experience is degrading and near Soviet at times, with lines two hours long, snaking around the block.

They often leave empty-handed due to shortages.

Baby boomers say they are being marginalized as they compete with tech-savvy youth for face masks and other key virus protection items and try receiving the latest updates on the virus at a time when most information is shared online.

For most young people, the virus crisis has barely been a blip. They actively share information in real time through social media or online communities. People most likely to get their hands on vital products are those who can click the “purchase” button at light speed.

A 35-year-old woman who works at an office in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo she places orders for food online to be delivered to her parents’ home in Daegu every week. She sends meat, instant food and frozen food, since fresh produce gets out of stock quickly.

“At a time when it’s dangerous to go shopping offline, I am buying groceries on behalf of my parents who are not used to shopping online,” she said.

Many older people have no choice but to hoof it down to the market, potentially being exposed to the virus in the process.

According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Science and ICT last year, the usage rate for online shopping was only 20.8 percent among those in their 60s and 15.4 percent for those in their 70s.

More than 90 percent of people in their 20s and 30s said they shop online.

“While seniors tend to easily use video platforms like YouTube, they tend to under use services like online shopping and banking, which require users to go through complicated processes,” said Lee Yong-han, a senior researcher at the department of digital inclusion of the National Information Society Agency.

While the government sends information by text message, the messages are limited to 90 characters, and individuals are advised to check government websites and social media pages anyhow to get additional information.

Younger people use the Corona Map app and plan out their routes to avoid places visited by confirmed patients. Seniors wander around oblivious to potential dangers.

“Korean people were able to realize how digitalization is important as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The outbreak will motivate the county to accelerate a digital transformation, compelling the implementation of systems such as remote medical care and remote education,” said Koo Ja-hyun, head researcher at the Korea Development Institute.

“But the government needs to back this up with practical policies to prevent seniors from being digitally marginalized, such as educational programs on smartphones for seniors,” he added.

BY KIM GYEONG-JIN [kang.jaeeun@joongang.co.kr]


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