Seniors go digital as Korea moves towards contactless culture


“Digital education rejuvenates my old body and soul.”

SEOUL, South Korea — Jae-Yeol Tae recalls the time he broke into a cold sweat after noticing a long line behind him as he struggled to order a burger from the ordering kiosk in a local fast food restaurant.

“I kept reading the instructions on the kiosk, but they were hard to follow. I asked an employee for help, but she flatly rejected me and told me to use the machine,” said Tae, 78. “But now that I’ve practiced how to use a kiosk several times, I have no problem ordering a burger or fries on my own.”

The South Korean elder is not the only one to have felt helpless and at the mercy of these self-service digital kiosks. Adults aged 65 and over have enrolled in the Senior Digital Education Program at Seoul’s Seocho Joongang Senior Welfare Center to learn how to use devices in this modern digital age.

The Seocho District Senior Community Center has been providing digital education classes and resources to volunteer seniors for two years. Since September 2019, more than 1,500 seniors have learned to use machines and digital devices like self-service kiosks through the program.

Educational kiosks in the Wellness Center offer various scenarios for students to practice real-life simulations. The scenarios are divided into nine different themes, which range from buying tickets in cinemas, airports and bus stations to ordering food in fast food restaurants and cafes.

“We have significantly expanded educational programs focused on maneuvering digital devices to help improve the livelihoods of older people since the pandemic began,” said Yu-rim Kang, 25, a social worker at the center of wellness that guides seniors into more active digital pursuits. use, told ABC News. “Seniors often struggle in public places due to the sudden shift to a contactless culture.”

After two years of enduring the pandemic, a large number of restaurants and stores have adopted electronic self-service kiosks as alternatives to reduce staffing costs while still keeping their businesses running. The size of the domestic kiosk market is expected to grow by 5.7% annually by 2023, according to the report by Shinhan Investment Corporation.

Digital education for senior citizens has become a necessity as South Korea continues to accelerate the digitalization of its public sectors in line with national pandemic regulations. Anyone wishing to enter any type of public facility must register using their personal QR code on their smartphone to provide proof of vaccination.

In early 2022, Seoul launched the “cashless bus” initiative designating 418 buses to only accept transit cards or mobile tickets. The project offers passengers instant mobile tickets by scanning QR codes at bus stations, but it makes public transport more complicated for less tech-savvy older people who typically only carry cash.

“I would like to say that if we old people don’t want to be left behind by the rest of society, we have to be prepared for any future changes,” said Hye-sook Park, a 74-year-old student who once had technophobia, told ABC News. “Don’t be afraid to try and learn new technologies.”

Seocho District Senior Community Center is not alone in promoting digital education for seniors. To support digitally isolated seniors and diversify accessibility to these programs, Seoul offers educational programs on various digital devices, including smartphones, kiosks, and even virtual reality sets.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government also recently announced that it will invest more than $1.68 million to further expand the educational resources needed to support the elderly.


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