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May 4, 2018

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Seniors hooked on smartphones: addiction, or tool for a better life?

WE are prone to think that Millennials are the ones addicted to smartphones. Some social media-obsessed youngsters always have their phones in hands, texting and updating their status. They even sit around a table with friends or family, saying nothing and descending into the black hole of games or social media.

Now we need to think again. On the subway, I’ve come across seniors with glasses gluing their faces to phone screens while scrolling down the news page.

At scenic spots, some of them are equally fond of taking selfies as the young, and they are surprisingly adept at photoshopping as well. They seem to be just as hooked to e-devices as youngsters.

Gray-haired netizens have become a growing force in cyberspace. According to a report jointly published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Tencent, people aged over 50 comprised 10.6 percent of the total online population in 2017, a staggering increase since 2012. Gone are the days when seniors struggled with electronic devices.

I cannot help but wonder why more and more seniors cling to the smartphone, and what impact it may have on them.

For seniors, smartphone addiction may increase the risks of certain health problems, such as heart problems, spinal column issues and eye diseases.

Meanwhile, it may also fray the bonds of family due to diminished interpersonal communication.

It may also lead to a decreased attention span, as well as aggravated emptiness.

My own case may shed some light.

After my grandfather passed away two years ago, we got my 70-year-old grandmother a second-hand iPhone to keep her in closer contact. At first, she didn’t want it, saying “Why do I need a smartphone? I already have a telephone in the house.”

It took us a while to convince her that a smartphone is a necessity and much longer to get her familiar with all sorts of functions and apps — for her the most important was stock trading.

But then there came the problem: She barely put it down. There was often a stream of notifications on her phone, and she checked them even as we were having dinner or chatting.

We realized the smartphone had taken its toll. Part of me knew that it somehow enabled her to escape from static walls and loneliness when we were busy with our own lives, but it seemed to do more harm than good. We knew that the so-called phone-addiction could only be redeemed by the company of family.

We decided to have family dinner at my grandmother’s every Friday and made a ground rule — no phones at the table.

We took her on short trips at weekends. Our next move is to sign her up for classes like photography.

One of the reasons seniors are increasingly attached to phones is to relieve loneliness and boredom. But what they really need is family.

Instead of scolding them, we may need to remind ourselves of the commitments of filial piety and spend more quality time with them. Helping them develop new hobbies and arranging trips or social activities can be steps in the right direction.

It’s useless to simply demonize smartphones, as few could resist the gratification of information at fingertips 24/7. What we can do is to help seniors make fair and reasonable use of the Internet.

Honestly, I cannot help feeling a bit hypocritical when touching on seniors’ phone addiction, since I am myself one of those who are highly dependent on mobile phone. My phone is the first thing I look in the morning, and the last thing I look at before going to sleep.

More often than not, hours just seem to vanish in a few minutes when I indulge myself in social media.

Maybe we all should just for once try to wean ourselves off smartphones and see if we can regain the pleasure of just being with other people.


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