The new digital grandpas

The pandemic has encouraged older people to get online and explore new digital services. Writer Beatriz Ferreira spoke with seniors who fell in love with life behind a screen.

Eighty-year old Acacio Alves and 73-year old Madalena Alves have watched the world go from black and white television to smartphones, iPads and smartwatches – and they didn’t want to be left behind.

“We haven’t had any problem with trying new technology or using the internet. The world is always changing and if there are new ways of doing something, which can help us make our lives easier, then why wouldn’t we try it?,” Acacio says.

The couple still enjoys reading the paper, books, or listening to the radio, but they now can’t live without their smartphones and other gadgets.

“For me, some activities are far more enjoyable outside of a screen. I go out to buy the newspaper every week, and the news outlet is always calling me to offer promotions to read it online, but I prefer the paper version and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Although they did convince me to subscribe to the newsletter. I read a brief of the top stories of the day on my email, but that’s it,” he explains.

Acacio and Madalena live in Portugal and have recently subscribed to a local streaming service.

“We haven’t stopped watching tv but we now also watch other programs online on our computer. It’s more convenient because we can watch it when it suits us,” he continues.

What about Netflix or Amazon Prime? Acacio is not convinced but Madalena seems to disagree: “He says we have enough to watch but I’m curious about Netflix. After all, everyone seems to watch it and there must be a reason for it. But that’s not the only thing we disagree on. He is very much against social media but I use Facebook and Instagram and I really enjoy it.”

While the patriarch prefers to stick to WhatsApp, where he chats with family and friends, Madalena likes to explore social media to its full potential.

“I have friends and family on Facebook and they share things with me. My niece sends me recipes, and sometimes pictures of new dishes she made. My daughter in law has sent me photos of her garden and I send her photos of my flowers as well. I have a niece who plays the guitar and sometimes he goes live on Instagram. Acacio says he doesn’t want to use social media but he likes when I show him these things,” she says jokingly.

She continues: “I also follow news pages, the council’s page, shops and restaurants that I like. I know social media has a bad reputation but it can be really useful. I find a lot of interesting posts on my Facebook.

“During the lockdown, I saw on Facebook one of our favourite restaurants was doing a new menu for delivery. We decided to call and ordered it on the same day. We really missed eating out and that meal was the best part of our day. It was like having a little bit of our normal life back. It may not be a big thing but we wouldn’t have known about it if I didn’t have a Facebook account, as now most people share things online, I like to be informed.”

The couple says the pandemic has encouraged them to learn new digital skills, and they are not alone. According to a study by the Centre for Ageing Better, COVID-19 has spurred many more people to get online or to use the internet in new ways. Results show among 50 to 70 year olds, three quarters (75 per cent) were making video calls more often during the lockdown and three in ten (31 per cent) were emailing more than they did before the pandemic. The reason behind this trend is the fact many activities, information and services have moved exclusively online without offering other alternatives, or with offline options being limited or restricted.

They have now started doing most of their shopping online, to avoid going to busy indoor places such as supermarkets or shopping centres: “It works really well, and it’s definitely something I will continue to do it after the pandemic because it saves us the work of carrying all the bags and heavy weights,” she says.

“I also bought new clothes, a pair of sandals, some things for the house. Not everything has arrived yet, but the items that have already been delivered were good. I’m happy with them.” And Acacio adds: “I also don’t go to my bank anymore. I use online banking to do everything on the internet.”

“We are very tired of being at home, as everyone else. We had to learn ways to keep going with our lives and avoid any unnecessary risks,” Madalena sighs. 

Beatriz De Valejo E Silva Abreu Ferreira

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