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Pandemic push to elders’ tech skills

Senior citizens who avoided smart devices have now picked up online communication, thanks to isolation and peer pressure
Illustration: Pratik Chakrabarti

Brinda Sarkar   |   Salt Lake   |   Published 30.07.21, 02:43 AM

A year and a half ago, the high point of their birthdays would be a phone call from children and grandchildren living abroad. Now their birthdays are incomplete without a video chat on Zoom with 50 relatives from around the world.

Video conferencing has always been around but it took a pandemic to get senior citizens to use them. Many of them have shed inhibitions and self-doubt and are experimenting with technology. They are paying bills online, tuning into religious shows on YouTube, watching serials on OTT platforms and performing at cultural programmes virtually.

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First smart phone

Maushumi Basu of BE Block got her first smart phone during the pandemic. “My son gifted it to me and our caretaker taught me how to use it. I never felt the need for this gadget before but now I realise how bored I would have been without it during the lockdown,” says the lady who is as comfortable using WhatsApp as she is shopping for home decor items online.

Her husband hasn’t warmed up to the device but he listens to classical music with her when she plays it on YouTube.

Rina Chandra decided to get a smart phone during the pandemic too. “Every one had one in hand except me! I was beginning to feel backdated,” smiles the septuagenarian of BD Block who still drives herself around.

Chandra has now joined the WhatsApp group of the horticultural society she is a member of and browses YouTube to learn more about growing plants. “I’m still no expert at using the phone but there’s no one to teach me. One of these days I’ll devote an entire day to giving myself a crash course on it.

Winds of change

“In just a year senior citizens have become more open to technology. Previously they would dismiss anything new saying they wouldn’t be able to use it but now at least they are trying,” says Sharmistha Sen Das who runs Paritosh Sen Memorial

Elderly Care Society.

After the lockdown last year, she started a WhatsApp group for members and started encouraging them to share songs, recitations and hold discussions on various festivals. This was a substitute of the monthly meetings they would have before the pandemic. “I had to individually call up members and direct them on how to use the app and in the first few video conferences someone’s audio or video elements went missing but now they have become experts,” says Sen Das.

But there are many, she says, who do not use smart phone or still need help in getting registered on the CoWin app for their vaccines.

Sutapa Majumdar used to teach music to other senior citizens at Swapno Bhor till the pandemic struck. “When the lockdown happened, I retreated into a shell. Students kept asking me to teach them online but I would refuse. I had neither conducted such classes before nor was I interested in the idea. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied without seeing the students’ faces up close,” says the lady who kept resisting for months.

In August, she finally decided to try out a class on a WhatsApp group with seven students and it turned out to be better than she expected. “Now I hold four such group classes and students are joining even from Mumbai and Pune. I’ve got a fresh lease of life thanks to online classes,” Majumdar smiles.

Serial to spiritual

Basu has given up television and watches shows on OTT platforms at her preferred time slots. Avijit Chaudhury is attending his Buddhist meetings and chanting mantras virtually. “It’s not rocket science. With my basic knowledge of smart phones I downloaded Zoom in the beginning of the lockdown and now attend everything from spiritual classes to annual general meetings on it. My wife Anuradha listens to Hemanta Mukherjee songs on YouTube while cooking,” says the CK Block resident.

Majumdar was not too Net savvy last Durga puja but this time she plans to watch live streaming of Chandipath and rituals from maths.

Age no bar

IB Block’s nonagenarian Chandrasekhar Bose has had a smart phone for the past few years but only got time to explore it during the pandemic. He recorded a video speech of over half an hour duration on it that was shared at an online event last year and he has been added to so many WhatsApp groups that he barely has time to read all the messages now.

EC Block’s Mihir Kumar Chatterjee celebrated his 100th recently with 50 relatives on a two hour-long Zoom call. While he doesn’t use a smart phone himself, he was helped by a neighbour’s son who lent his laptop for the needful.

Learning curve

Sithi Kana Ghatak admits that two or three-year-olds these days are adept at using smart phones. “But we senior citizens take longer to pick up. Our block is full of retired people and naturally, there was an initial resistance when I suggested virtual programmes,” says the convenor of New Town CD’s Block’s cultural association.

But Ghatak’s daughter and other youths helped the elderly to download the necessary apps. “We try to hold as many events as possible to keep them engaged and now virtual meets are a piece of cake for them. We have even performed virtual audio dramas that were aired on Radio New Town Ghatak,” she says the lady who has started two Facebook pages recently.

Neighbours, children, grandchildren, caretakers have all played important roles in empowering the elderly.

“Our children can get impatient if we take time to learn these things,” says Sonali Basak of DB Block. Basak has spearheaded many a virtual cultural show for her ladies group Gulabi Gang. “In such cases I tell my friends they cannot give up. When our kids were little we too took pains to teach them the alphabet and now the roles have reversed.”

If newcomers to their group fail to understand the technology she asks them to go over to the nearest fellow member’s house and learn. “But what I’m clear about is that no one dare say ‘amar daara hobe na’. If I can do it, they can do it,” says the lady who learnt Zoom and Skype from her son-in-law and Facebook Live from a friend’s son. “Even if we don’t join Tik Tok or Instagram, video conferencing, WhatsApp and Facebook are basics that we must all know lest we fall behind.”

Dilip Syam stays busy enough with WhatsApp and so has not ventured into Facebook but he is grateful to the platform as his daughter used it to locate his long lost friend. “Now we have video conferences with friends from Salt Lake, New Town, Mumbai and London whenever we miss one another,” smiles the resident of Sanjeeva Town Bunglow Estate.

Shopping online

For Kali Prasad Saha online shopping was a way out of ennui during the lockdown. “I have a green thumb but wasn’t being able to step out of home to buy plants or fertilisers,” says the resident of New Town’s CE Block. “Then one day I clicked an ad on Facebook and it took to a lovely site for plants.”

Soon Saha was buying plants and supplies online. “Since cash on delivery wasn’t available for purchases under Rs 2,000 I started paying online too,” he says. “The system is so convenient now that I shop online very often now.”

Basu says her children were reluctant to let her shop online, saying she may click something wrong. “But with time I’ve become an expert shopper. Everyone loves my choice and I sniff out the best deals,” smiles the lady who has been buying plants, bottles, bed covers et al.

Ditto with Basak, who is shopping online so much that her children are teasing her about it. “I share my birthday with my elder daughter who lives in Bangalore and this year she sent me a garment steamer and I too sent her a microwave that I bought online! I’m so happy I could do it on my own,” she beams with pride.

Basak’s younger daughter lives in New Town and keeps dropping by. “I could easily hand her gifts but the excitement of shopping online is such that I prefer sending them directly to her. Why, the other day I sent her a sil nora,” says the lady who also teaches dance online.

But many like Chandra refuse to buy things without the touch-and-feel experience. Fruits, vegetables and groceries are available on the Net too but many elderly citizens said they get the convenience of home delivery from cycle carts that go door-to-door these days.

Cyber alert

Many senior citizens refrain from online payments too. “We don’t have debit or credit cards,” says Majumdar. “During the lockdown we would request youths in the neighbourhood to encash cheques for us. As for bills, our son pays them online from Bangalore. My husband and I do not want to dabble with online payment as we aren’t familiar with it. What if we click something wrong?”

Syam has switched to online bill payments but is always alert. “A friend of mine lost Rs 1.5 lakh through cybercrime. We elderly are a more trusting breed and hence susceptible to these,” he says.

Basak now pays bills online, transfers money online, uses mobile wallets…. “With practice I have become confident and don’t need anyone to help me make these payments anymore,” says the lady who lives alone in DB Block. “If there is one positive about the pandemic, it is that it has made us independent.”

Learning curve

Sithi Kana Ghatak admits that two or three-year-olds these days are adept at using smart phones. “But we senior citizens take longer to pick such things up. Our block is full of retired people and naturally, there was an initial resistance when I suggested virtual programmes,” says the convenor of New Town CD’s Block’s cultural association.

But Ghatak’s daughter and other youths helped the elderly download the necessary apps. “We try to hold as many events as possible to keep them engaged and now virtual meets are a piece of cake for them. We have even performed virtual audio dramas that were aired on Radio New Town,” she says the lady who has started two Facebook pages recently.

Neighbours, children, grandchildren, caretakers have all played important roles in empowering the elderly.

“Our children can get impatient if we take time to learn these things,” says Sonali Basak of DB Block. Basak has spearheaded many a virtual cultural show for her ladies group Gulabi Gang. “In such cases, I tell my friends they cannot give up. When our kids were little we too took pains to teach them the alphabet and now the roles have reversed.”

If newcomers to their group fail to understand the technology, she asks them to go over to the nearest fellow member’s house and learn. “But what I’m clear about is that no one dare say ‘amar dwara hobe na’. If I can do it, they can do it too,” says the lady who learnt how to Zoom and Skype from her son-in-law and Facebook Live from a friend’s son. “Even if we don’t join Tik Tok or Instagram, video conferencing, WhatsApp and Facebook are basics that we must all know lest we fall behind.”

Dilip Syam stays busy enough with WhatsApp and so has not ventured into Facebook but he is grateful to the platform as his daughter used it to locate his long-lost friend. “Now we have video conferences with friends from Salt Lake, New Town, Mumbai and London whenever we miss one another,” smiles the resident of Sanjeeva Town The Bungalow Estate.

Shopping online

For Kali Prasad Saha, online shopping was a way out of ennui during the lockdown. “I have a green thumb but wasn’t being able to step out of home to buy plants or fertilisers,” says the resident of New Town’s CE Block. “Then one day I clicked on an ad on Facebook and it took me to a lovely site for plants.”

Soon Saha was buying plants and supplies online. “Since cash on delivery wasn’t available for purchases under Rs 2,000, I started paying online too,” he says. “The system is so convenient that I shop online very often now.”

Basu says her children were reluctant to let her shop online, saying she might click something wrong. “But with time I’ve become an expert shopper. Everyone loves my choice and I sniff out the best deals,” smiles the lady who has been buying plants, bottles, bed covers et al.

Ditto with Basak, who is shopping online so much that her children are teasing her about it. “I share my birthday with my elder daughter who lives in Bangalore and this year she sent me a garment steamer and I too sent her a microwave that I bought online! I’m so happy I could do it on my own,” she beams with pride.

Basak’s younger daughter lives in New Town and keeps dropping by. “I could easily hand her gifts but the excitement of shopping online is such that I prefer sending them directly to her. Why, the other day I sent her a sil nora,” says the lady who also takes dance classes online.

But many like Chandra refuse to buy things without the touch-and-feel experience. Fruits, vegetables and groceries are available on the Net too but many elderly citizens said they get the convenience of home delivery from cycle carts that go door-to-door these days.

Cyber alert

Many senior citizens refrain from online payments too. “We don’t have debit or credit cards,” says Majumdar. “During the lockdown we would request youths in the neighbourhood to encash cheques for us. As for bills, our son pays them online from Bangalore. My husband and I do not want to dabble with online payment as we aren’t familiar with the process. What if we click something wrong?”

Syam has switched to online bill payments but is always alert. “A friend of mine lost Rs 1.5 lakh through cyber crime. We elderly are a more trusting breed and hence susceptible to these frauds,” he says.

Basak now pays bills online, transfers money online, uses mobile wallets... “With practice, I have become confident and don’t need anyone to help me make these payments anymore,” says the lady who lives alone in DB Block. “If there is one positive about the pandemic, it is that it has made us independent.”

Have you or any senior citizen you know picked up technological skills in recent times? Write to The Telegraph Salt Lake, 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700001 or email to saltlake@abp.in



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