Bridging the Digital Divide

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Digital Divide

The tech savvy young people, with dreams in their eyes, leave their nests often for distant lands. Their aging parents’ agonies increase manifold, when smart phones and laptops scare them. Soumitra shows us a way out; a wonderful relationship that might bloom between the elders and the young.

India’s brain drain is ‘brain gain’ for other nations. Our education system, often touted to be world class (arguably though, as very few institutions feature in global lists of academic excellence) spews out several lakh graduates every year. Studies indicate that about 25 per cent of tech graduates (read engineers) are employable and in the non-tech category this number is a dismal 10 per cent or thereabouts. Even then, the very best, and undoubtedly they are very good, often seek greener pastures, though the startup bug that has bitten many in recent times, brings them back in droves as well. In one word, the workforce is mobile. Upwardly or downwardly is a matter of opinion. If they smell an opportunity in Beijing, they will simply land there. India above all else, enjoys a demographic dividend, a working age population that is among the youngest in the world. While RoW (rest of the world) is saddled with an ageing population (in Continental Europe, Japan, China, etc) India’s case is quite the opposite. This, largely due to a population size (1.3 billion), which overwhelms statisticians and social scientists, renders a proportionally high number of young employable Indians, a significant percentage of which is often lapped up by other nations.

Let’s take a step back. What’s the other effect of brain drain that goes beyond the obvious loss to the exchequer? It has to do with the empty nest syndrome. Adult wellness programmes are now focused and reasonably well orchestrated, as those who earn big bucks in other currencies are able to spend on parents’ welfare. And, to be fair, this generation is doing a considerable bit for those, who they have left behind in hometowns. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s speeches are always laced with the Digital India dream – of 900 million mobile phones users, out of which 250 million have access to smart phones, provide an opportunity that is likely to change the face of our nation. It’s Leviathan in its scope.

Portending to bridge the digital divide, the chasm that exists, it opens yet another parallel line of thinking. Riding the powerful wave, can digital India literacy be leveraged to help the elderly stay connected to their children in far off shores? In old age, the need for constant company is an overbearing one, and ranks right up there with healthcare. The two are intricately linked in some ways.

A common challenge that the elderly face must be to do with using computers, mobile phones and allied technology. Smart phones and laptops, lovingly bought by a son or a daughter often lies idle to gather dust. It is not uncommon to see people of an older generation quake at the mere mention of technology. Life is unfair. Technology is meant to make our lives easier and not instill a sense of fear.

Prices of devices are falling and software that powers them is increasingly getting more powerful. Yet the elderly are not able to work it to their advantage. Like any other habit this too needs nurturing, and biennial visits from children and over-enthusiastic grandchildren are not enough to wean them into tech adoption, like the average city bred teen for instance. With the optimum amount of guidance and hand-holding is there any reason why they cannot? As observed, teenagers are not exactly high-end analytic users, and in most cases they merely use social media to stay connected with friends. It’s certainly a not-too-complex exercise. It’s a kind of behavioral pattern that too might be replicated in the elderly, if not with élan, but certainly with adequate practice and patience. Given the sheer numbers, a definitive structure needs to be put in place. We need Evangelisers. Many.

Companies in India are tasked with spending on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Those, with turnover more than Rs 500 crores or having net profit exceeding Rs 5 crores, fall under this ambit and have to mandatory spend two per cent of the net profit every year on CSR initiatives. As one would imagine, the number of such companies are in thousands. Most of the time companies are at a loss on how to suitably deploy these funds. Here’s an opportunity. Corporate houses may seek volunteers from their  workforce, who are willing to spend time with the elderly to assist them to acclimatize with technology and help shed inhibitions. The aim is not to make them tech geeks (we have enough of that already) but to support parents stay in touch with their children and grandchildren in other parts of the world. To create a win-win proposition and render it sustainable, the cost of manpower deployed is accounted for as part of the CSR budget, and treated accordingly.

Moreover, as this becomes a company mandated programme, the security angle is also ensured. If a certain gent / lady are to visit your elderly parents once / twice / thrice a week, you definitely want to ensure that there’s no threat to the latter’s physical well-being, which is of course a primary concern.

The benefits of this initiative are two-fold. The other part is about giving company, which the elderly so desperately seek. A life for them beyond those staid TV serials, and we might actually see many friendships bloom. The elderly are in company of their young ‘teachers’. Often these youngsters are not very different from their children, living far away from homes, in distant lands!


Cartoon Credit : Net

Soumitra enjoys deconstructing social trends in post modernist world in social media. He lives in Gurgaon and works in a private firm. Soumitra’s quire humour is an integral part of his persona. He loves reading and body-building, though not necessarily in that order. Soumitra’s quire humour is an integral part of his persona. He loves reading and body-building, though not necessarily in that order.