Lai likes to brush up his artistic inclinations with tools such as the Photoscan app. Pix by Nik Hariff Hassan

THE Socratic way of living dictates that the more we know, the more we realise we know nothing. Following such philosophy, one is admittedly never too old to learn.

When we think of technology as a domain for knowledge, the demography that usually comes to mind is everyone born in Generation X and beyond.

So it’s not surprising that in a day and age where every action and goal is achievable in a click, it’s all too easy to perceive the senior citizens of our time to be “behind” it all.

However, we forget that baby boomers do not perceive technology the way we do. The understanding and mastery of digital realms do not come naturally to them simply because they were not born into it the way we were. But it is for this very reason that the elderly are technology’s biggest reapers.

As younger Malaysians, it is our responsibility to patiently educate them in ways they can fathom and apply effectively.

Google’s head of communications Zeffri Yusof, for one, agrees, believing that senior citizens have the most to gain from technology, especially when it comes to maximising smartphones.

“At Google, we typically zero in on groups that could use tips and tricks to help themselves, and old folks are one of these groups,” Zeffri said.

“We all live in an interesting time where everything fits into a small, palm-sized screen. But while the mastery of technology is natural for millennials and Gen X members, it’s not the same for our baby boomers.”

Following the realisation, Google Malaysia has been, as part of their CSR work, cornering Malaysian geriatrics to inform them the utilities of smartphone applications.

“The best strategy is helping these folks use the most out of the devices that they already have and are exposed to,” Zeffri contended.

Google’s latest workshop for senior citizens, digitally marketed as #GCafe4SeniorsMY, was one to testify its efforts to improve the quality of senior life.

Held recently at YMCA Kuala Lumpur, the event saw a few dozen attendees from 55 to 75 mastering Google tools around the popular themes of Search, Plan, Travel and Photos.

“We have in the past worked with Autorr Foundation, an NGO assisting the welfares of senior citizens. From there, we decided to do another workshop, this time inviting elderly YMCA members to participate,” Zeffri said.

Sourcing partnerships for the work is surprisingly easy. Zeffri continues: “These organisations are kind enough to find venues for us to set up our workshops.”

“The easiness of the situation allows us to focus on the main point: How can we get senior Malaysians to gain knowledge from their smartphones in an uncomplicated way? After countless research, we found out that seniors are interested to search information better, plan things better, travel more, and keep better track of their photos.”

Apparently, children are not the only humans capable of revelling in awe. As Zeffri and his team would eventually realise, the more senior citizens realise how magical and self-serving technology actually is, the more accepting they are of it.

He says: “Most of them didn’t know they could actually talk to their phones! If you think about it, that is kind of a big deal, at least in their case.

“You would also realise how simple their goals are, which makes you happy to help them out. Suddenly, life for them is less about burnt cakes when they have scheduled alarms to remind them to check the oven. They also get to plan more meetings with friends.”

A popular interest shared among the seniors attending GCafe was travelling. Retiree George Cheong Lak Hoong, 65, shares his delight, “My favourite app is Google Trips. I can use it for travelling and take myself to so many places.

“Right now, I depend too much on my children to organise my trips. Imagine how sad I am whenever they tell me they are not free, and that’s the end of it. Now, I realise I can travel myself, without depending on anybody. This way, I can feel proud of my adventures!”

Meanwhile, 69-year-old homemaker Helen Tan prefers mastering the ropes of Google Calendar and Maps. “I wasn’t very good at searching and downloading things on my phone, but now I do. I can also find places easier and faster with Maps.”

Touching on YouTube, she muses: “Now I can go on YouTube and listen to my favourite songs!”

While Cheong and Tan’s interests lie in spatial utility, 75-year-old Lai Pong Hin prefers to brush up his artistic inclinations. “I really like the Photoscan app. With it, I get to keep more photos of my family and show them off to my friends.”

“I also love Google Translate. When I travel to other countries, it’s much easier to understand information written in foreign language and learn what locals there have to say.”

Having seen the heartwarming success of #GCafe4SeniorsMY, Zeffri believes the elderly can be technologically savvy, given the chance. The buds to be nipped are all in the little details.

“If they have a challenge focusing on small fonts, for example, they can learn how to get themselves out of the problem by accessing their phone’s settings,” he said.

These little epiphanies, he continued, are what Google is looking at to induce among geriatrics precursory to virtual reality (VR) assistance.

“In Malaysia, VR is generally new to the masses. Among the youth, it works as an assisting tool in classes, as well as an entertainment programme. Meanwhile, VR for the Malaysian elders is currently considered an amazing bonus.”

Concerning the biggest challenge of cementing senior belief in VR, Zeffri says: “Safety is the biggest issue when it comes to introducing VR to the seniors. That’s why we would pre-arrange safe seating layouts for them before we give them the necessary tools. It’s easy for them to get hurt, while exploring.”

Given the success of VR in areas such as healthcare and therapy overseas, all hopes of developing the tool for local seniors are not lost; in fact, they quietly persist.

According to Zeffri, it’s a matter of function. “At Google, we do not introduce technology for technology’s sake. As long as we find a used case to utilise it, there will always be development in the areas concerning VR.

“I think we’re at the cusp of something special, in terms of the devices that we have and the capabilities that they have to deliver VR. There’s never been a point in time where the portability of this is matched with easy accessibility.”

Regarding Google’s part in this macro goal, Zeffri concludes: “All of our VR tools are free. This way, all other industries are more than welcome to utilise it for their own research and development.”

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