Don't leave the elderly by the wayside in smart-nation drive

I agree with Dr Thomas Lee Hock Seng that a smart nation must not make life more "difficult, inconvenient, and costly" for senior citizens (Wise people needed to run a smart nation; March 15).

Singapore, at present, has over 487,600 citizens over the age of 65. These individuals, myself included, did not all have the opportunity to receive a proper education during the tumultuous and less affluent pre-independence era.

Given this lack of foundational knowledge, it has been tremendously challenging for many seniors to acquire information technology skills, let alone adjust to the age of automation and digital interaction.

When I visit the cinema, for instance, I encounter many a senior citizen struggling to purchase tickets from the intimidating, user-unfriendly machines that have replaced the manned box office.

At restaurants, I see seniors being deterred by the absence of wait staff, and looking perplexed by the need to download a smartphone application to place their orders.

Perhaps most worryingly, many of my acquaintances have encountered great difficulty attempting to access essential services from the government sector and banking sector via unwieldy and unintelligible Internet portals.

Of course, the implementation of labour-saving devices remains a very worthwhile enterprise.

But "smart" solutions are more efficient and convenient for digital natives who can get the most out of these technologies.

The less-proficient elderly folk may be left by the wayside if our nation does not take special care to accommodate them. Such oversight is socially unwise.

I urge the authorities, businesses, and developers, as they continue to innovate, to include more elderly-friendly features.

This could entail improved user interface design, providing adequate instructions for use and, ideally, having more personnel on site to handle customers who prefer face-to-face interaction.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Don't leave the elderly by the wayside in smart-nation drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe