Half a decade ago, computers were a novelty and mobile phones were rare. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the digital revolution changed our lives, starting with the gradual adoption of the internet to the development of handheld smartphones. A mobile computer? Nothing could be more amazing than that during those days! But the reality of understanding both the advantages and disadvantages is only hitting us now when it comes to how it affects our aging loved ones.
Misinformation is rampant because the internet is free and accessible to all. Compared to newspapers and libraries where someone is in charge of distribution, what goes online is often a mix of facts and fake information. The Scientific American called the spread of misinformation as an “infodemic” which, like an epidemic, is dangerous and life-threatening. Nevertheless, fake news targets online readers of all ages, but studies have shown that adults over 65 share the most misinformation on their social networks.
Here are some steps on how to protect seniors and improve their digital knowledge:
There are plenty of free digital literacy assessments available online. The test measures our knowledge of hardware and software ranging from identifying computer parts to demonstrating how to open and close programs in a specific operating system. Even when we think we know the basic skills, there are always newer ones we need to adapt to, like using emails, distinguishing spam and malware ads, as well as other forms of internet safety.
Aside from instant messaging, smartphones have become multipurpose gadgets that can take photos and videos, provide location tagging or GPS, play music or record audio, and so on. It’s a tool we use to consume information as well as to produce content that is shareable to friends and strangers online. Raising awareness of our rights and responsibilities is only practical, but we have to accept that we’re not going to be experts on data privacy overnight.
3. Verify the source and content
It’s often said that we are living in a post-truth era where opinions are taken as facts and facts are taken as opinions. The challenge is in verifying the source of information. Fortunately, there are non-profit organizations that conduct free classes on digital literacy. Videos and images can easily be manipulated using software tools, therefore, learning how to trust the source is vital to protecting ourselves against misinformation.
Nowadays, children are often told to minimize their screen time but that advice also applies to young and older adults. Although we grew up watching TV and going to the cinemas, these are examples of passive media where we can’t interact with the content. Now, digital apps allow us to build personalities online that can interact with anybody who also has an online personality, regardless of whether it’s true or imaginary. By limiting screen time to the minimum, we can maintain a sense of reality that is rooted in what we can feel and touch.
Today, the Pew Research Center estimates that 7 out of 10 Americans use social media to communicate and connect. It is often the default platform to engage with news and entertainment content, while information is still widely available on the world wide web. If we want to take full advantage of the digital world, we have to start bridging the gap faced by seniors and eliminate the disadvantages. Most adults today have moved on from Internet hoaxes and clickbait emails when they were younger, so why can’t our elders?