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“We Don’t Need These Fancy Things”: Exploring the Perceptions of Marginalized Older Adults Towards a Community-Based Digital Intervention in Singapore

Lu, Si Yinn

The Seniors Go Digital program was launched in 2020 as part of the Singapore government’s plan to increase digital uptake among older adults. It sought to ensure they remain socially engaged, informed and are not left behind in the nationwide push for digitization. Project Wire Up is a community-based digital intervention that provides subsidized smartphones and one-to-one coaching on digital skills to older adults residing in public rental neighborhoods in Singapore. This exploratory study uses phenomenological and ethnographic approaches to examine older adults’ perceptions towards Project Wire Up, particularly how their attitudes and behaviors towards learning smartphones are shaped by experiences of aging, social and material precarities. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 9 participants who had completed the intervention. Although older learners expressed varying levels and types of motivation to learn, most expressed ambivalence about the perceived utility and relevance of the smartphone to their present needs, routines and priorities. In terms of barriers to learning, participants articulated two key challenges. These were: (i) anxieties about age-related cognitive and physical limitations; and (ii) self-consciousness about their socio-economic positioning, illiteracy, language barriers, and lack of cultural capital relative to other older adults. The internalization of class-related stigma and ageist stereotypes of being ‘less worthy’ learners further reduce self-efficacy and interest in learning. To increase the appeal and transformative potential of smartphones for older adults, implementers must develop ways for digital tools to be meaningful to the daily lives of older adults, such as through creating opportunities for sociality and relationship-building. Learning spaces should normalize ambivalence and learning challenges, while helping older adults to confront their own ageist stereotypes. These strategies must be complemented by broader structural efforts to expand definitions of successful aging that do not alienate or stigmatize those who may be unwilling or hesitant about partaking in the ‘digital movement’.

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Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Hopper, Kim J.
Degree
M.P.H., Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Published Here
April 12, 2021