Every week I visit my Wrinklies. That’s my affectionate pet name for my parents. At 92 they find technology tricky – so in this ever increasingly digital world I am worried for them.
Not so long ago they used to peer at their (equally ancient!) computer and even made the occasional call on their mobiles. Now, the computer has been scrapped and the flip lid phones are gathering dust at the back of a drawer somewhere alongside their unused hearing aids (they claim the batteries are too tiny for their less than agile fingers now, but they are actually too proud to wear them).
They are overly suspicious of every letter that pops through the front door (that’s my fault, having given them dire warnings about potential scams). So, despite being a little hard of hearing, they rely on their landline to communicate with utility companies, insurance providers and the like who send them renewal notices. Well we all know what that means… hanging on for ages listening to tinny music and repetitive messages until a bot answers. I am teaching my Wrinklies to respond by saying “I want to speak to a human” over and over until the robot puts them through to one.
I have my doubts about how much longer companies will lash out on expensive postage and paper that depletes rainforests. They are already encouraging their customers to “download our app” (obvs not an option for so many people) and manage their accounts from their mobile. I have noticed that it is easier and quicker to make a payment from my mobile banking app than it is to log on to my (easier to read, larger screened) computer and check my finances there.
Alexa. A very useful tool I will agree. I don’t have one but do occasionally use Siri on my mobile to set a timer for me when I’m cooking. Has prevented many a burnt offering. But even I say “thank you” once Siri confirms he’s done his bit. And, you may notice, I’m calling him “he”. Apparently it is human nature to humanise robots. The particular problem my Wrinklies have with Alexa, is that they cannot remember “her” name. I often hear my stepfather shouting “Erika, play Strangers In The Night” and looking bewildered when there is no response.
Cash. It’s disappearing isn’t it. We noticed it in coffee shops who suddenly didn’t want to accept cash in payment for our flat whites. Now seems to be spreading to other businesses who now look in horror if you proffer a coin or note. Apart from my darling Wrinklies, 5.4 million other adults in the UK rely on cash. So the thought of a cashless society is an anathema to them.
Although I have POA for both of them, I’m not entirely sure that it’s legal when I take their card to the Post Office to get them more money. The alternative would be to put my mother’s wheelchair in my tiny car (not the easiest of manoeuvres), get her in, drive to the Post office, park, get wheelchair out and help the old girl into it, take her to queue and, even when we get to the cashier, my mother can’t really hear what she’s saying so I end up tapping the card for her anyway. Last time I went on my own, I asked for 20 pound coins as well as some notes. The cashier looked at me disapprovingly. Apparently it’s not a service they offer any longer in order to prevent money laundering (?!?!). Apparently you need to set up a Change-Giving service which is set up through a business bank account. Anyhow, in May, the government announced there will be new legislation to protect access to cash – Lordy, I hope they actually come good on that promise but as with so much our government doesn’t do, I am not holding my breath.
And don’t get me started on passwords. They are now obligatory for everything. And we are supposed to remember around fifty of these 12 digit upper case, lower case, numeral and symbol combos. I have to write mine down which I think has to be a little safer than using the same password for everything. When my parents spoke to NS&I the other day, they ended up having marathon phone calls because they couldn’t remember their passwords. “What was the first book you ever read?” “Sorry, can’t remember as that must have been over 85 years ago.” They never got around to buying more premium bonds in the end, it was simply too much hassle.
And our digital world gets me in a panic occasionally too. The other day I thought I’d lost my mobile and returned to the supermarket to see if I’d dropped it in the car park. The Tesco security guard found me lying on the ground looking under a BMW – I don’t blame him for thinking I had lost my marbles as well as my phone. Well, actually I was terribly worried when I starting thinking about how vital that seemingly innocuous little machine has become.
In truth, I’m always there to help my parents with their admin, but there are so many other older people who have no-one. Who is going to help them navigate this increasingly digital world?
Stop press: Apparently bank hubs and pop up banks are gradually being set up – you can find out more about this development by listening to BBC R4’s My Name Is Chris….
Do you worry about digitisation? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section under this article. Thank you.
Read Annabel’s post about losing the personal touch here