Technological Development and the Exclusion of the Elderly Technology continues to evolve, and especially during the non-face-to-face way of life accelerated by COVID-19, there has been a noticeable increase in unmanned and automated devices. However, the development of these technologies causes digital alienation among the elderly. ...............................Ed
If you input ‘kiosk’ and ‘old people’ together in the search box, you will see articles mainly dealing with ‘digital alienation.’ The recent surge in unmanned stores, such as kiosks and unmanned calculators, led to many problems. Unmanned stores, which brought convenience and autonomy to consumers and reduced labor costs to employers, created difficult situations for the elderly. On June 28, an old man asked, “I ordered cold coffee, but why hot coffee is served?” at a franchise cafe in Gwanak-gu, Seoul, and could not say anything when he saw an order that said ‘HOT.’
At the age of 74, Park Mak-rye, who runs a YouTube channel called “Korea Grandma,” posted several videos about experiencing the various cultures of the MZ generation. Among the videos are a “A Restaurant That Mak-rye Can‘t Go To Even If She Wants To” which earned 1.2 million views. The video shows her ordering hamburgers by using an unmanned calculator. The difficult ordering methods of unmanned calculators were featured throughout the video. Letters on the unmanned calculators were too small for the elderly to read, and ‘French fries’ caused further confusion. It was not recognized as a difficulty for young people, the main consumer of hamburgers, but from the perspective of the elderly, a new problem was unraveled.
Then why has the use of unmanned calculators increased so much, though it could be solved if people will be the ones to receive direct orders? The main reason is ‘labor cost.’ According to the Minimum Wage Commission, the minimum wage rose drastically from 6,470 won in 2017 to 7,530 won in 2018, and rose slightly every year to 8,720 won in 2021. As prices went up, the minimum wage rose, and it became a burden to employers.
Furthermore, hiring part-timers entails many factors to consider, such as time adjustment and neglect of work. From the perspective of an employer, the use of machines can be superior in terms of cost and convenience. However, these wage problems are not the only ones that have caused the employers to choose unmanned calculators. Due to COVID-19, more unmanned stores have emerged because consumers prefer non-face-to-face transactions, and feel safe to order through machines. Thus, the surge in the use of unmanned calculators is a combined result of COVID-19 restrictions and rising labor costs.
According to the Korea Information Society Agency’s 2019 Information Service (Kiosk) Information Accessibility Survey, only 25.6 percent of kiosks are installed in locations where wheelchair users have access. Only 27.8 percent of kiosks provide visual and voice information simultaneously for the blind and the elderly with failing eyesight. Despite the situation, the 2020 budget for the kiosk improvement project accounted for only 158 million won, or 0.056% of the total budget for the information service project. Due to budget constraints the current survey on unmanned information terminals also had to be conducted by limiting the target to 800 kiosks installed in the Seoul metropolitan area. Moreover, the current survey mentioned earlier was also conducted only in the metropolitan area, so if we expand the survey nationwide, there will be fewer numbers.
Technology is developing at a tremendous rate. As a result, those who cannot keep up with the digital lifestyle are also increasing rapidly. There are also many voices that believe speed warfare is important for the development of mankind. However, development comes with responsibility. At the very least, kiosks can be adjusted in height to make it easier for disabled people to use them, the size of letters can be adjusted for the elderly, and the application of the Korean version for those who do not know English can be considered. Not long ago, an SNS post read, “My mother went to buy hamburgers, and came back crying.” The story was about an elderly mother returning after wandering for 20 minutes because she did not know how to use an unmanned ordering machine. Those in their 20s and 30s left comments of sympathy because they understand their parents’ generation. Digital alienation is a problem that can no longer be ignored. We need to solve it with deep interest and serious effort.
Noh Yun-jung (ST Reporter)
Kim Tae-eun (ST Cub-Reporter)