Old, hungry and struggling with a soulless kiosk to order a burger
Kindly oldsters walk into fast food joints staffed only by electronic kiosks and break down in tears confounded by the infernal machines.
"Am I too old to buy a hamburger for myself?" one asks.
In Korea, where touch screens are fast replacing humans for order taking, this dystopian scene is being played out on a daily basis, if social media is to be believed.
"People like us are not good at using kiosks," said a 50-year-old housewife after trying to use a kiosk at a Lotteria in Mapo District, western Seoul on Tuesday. "I assume it would be easy once you get used to it, but there is a lot of trial and error along the way."
This particular outlet, which only has kiosks, has been a big hit for all the wrong reasons on social media.
"What is this?" one Twitter account wrote with a photo of the bank of soulless kiosks. "I don't know how to use these."
The tweet was retweeted more than 5,300 times and gained traction.
"The elderly who visit the store for the first time may find it very difficult," said a college student in his 20s at the store. "If there was a guide, customers would have the opportunity to learn how to use kiosks, but it's a pity that they don't have any."
Kiosks are increasingly used at a wide range of venues, including government offices, markets, hospitals and restaurants. They were installed for a variety of reasons, such as labor cost reduction or convenience, but there are still many people who complain of difficulties in using them.
According to the Seoul Digital Foundation on Tuesday, in a survey of 5,000 Seoul residents, 45.8 percent of respondents over 55 said that they had successfully used a kiosk. Among those over 75, 13.8 percent said they had used a kiosk. As people age, their usage of kiosks tends to decrease.
"My mom, who is a school teacher, couldn't find a restaurant with employees that would take her order and only found kiosks, and couldn't order anything," according to a post in an online forum.
Small commotions sometimes break out over the use of kiosks. According to a story posted to an online community website on May 9, an elderly woman had to face other customers complaining that she was holding up the line while she struggled to use a kiosk.
"My mom couldn't order from a kiosk and got into a fight," the post read. It received 130,000 views.
As the "digital divide" created by kiosks has emerged as a social problem, solutions are being tested. Some local governments are implementing digital education courses for the elderly.
On social media, where users are mainly in their twenties and thirties, there is an online movement that calls for helping elderly consumers with kiosks.
"If we see an elderly person who is struggling with a kiosk, we should help them," one post read.
There are heartwarming stories of people who say that they have helped elderly customers use kiosks, telling them not to panic.
"Even some young people have trouble using kiosks," said a 29-year-old office worker. "We should all try to help each other."
The number of kiosks operating in the private sector in Korea tripled from 8,587 in 2019 to 26,574 last year. Employers say that the trend of using kiosks came with the pandemic, and that the trend is continuing. On an online community of more than 1 million employers, "Save 6 million won a month with a kiosk," and "Employees get in trouble, but the kiosks don't cause trouble" are top stories.
"When faced with difficulties in using kiosks, the young people feel embarrassed, and the elderly feel alienated," said Lee Young-ae, a professor of consumer science at Incheon University. "Personalized education should be expanded to address the digital divide, which can be a dread for those who are marginalized."
"Consumers who feel uncomfortable with kiosks should adapt after learning about it a few times," said Lee Eun-hee, a professor of consumer science at Inha University. "Efforts by local governments are necessary, such as installing kiosks in community centers with good accessibility and increasing education."
BY CHAE HYE-SEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]