19:00 IST

14/06/21

Yakub Sayed is an 87 year old retired government employee. He has lived a life of manual labour so he fails to understand the need for internet, laptops and smart TVs. He is especially wary of cashless transactions. Reading news of fraudsters scamming individuals makes him believe that the next scammer is round the corner waiting to con him. Some of his fear is justified with increased reports of phishing scams taking place frequently.

His daughter says that she won’t even show him the Netflix show, ‘Jamtara - Sabka Number Aayega’ that explores the process behind phone scams.

His fear is justified considering his age. For him, things have always happened in front of his eyes, by his own hands. The end of every month, he has to go to his South Mumbai bank’s branch to withdraw money and update his bank books. He will not even entertain the thought of visiting a nearby branch. There is a certain comfort level the home branch offers which not even the comfort of his home and online banking will provide him with.

But things have not been the same since March 2020 for him and for many others like him. He still doesn’t understand why it is important to sit at home, to stay away from people. He reads multiple newspapers but still wishes his daily routine would continue as is.

Like a caged bird he longs to get out. In an attempt at freedom of movement, he left home one evening in April 2021 under the pretext of getting milk. Forty five minutes later, just before curfew began at 8 PM he returned. His daughter had her suspicions about his whereabouts during his prolonged absence from home. Upon seeing the wad of cash in his drawer and the bank’s passbook lying on top of it, they were confirmed. He had gone to the ATM. He had snuck out and gone to the nearest Bank of Baroda branch to get cash.

Going cashless is not something he tries to understand or attempt.

“My parents are reluctant about online shopping and Google Pay,” says Bhairavi B., a resident of Mumbai. “Appa must be around 62 and Amma must be 57 or 58, I am not sure. They don’t perceive software like we do.” Evolving interaction patterns confuse them at times, she says, and the biggest fear of losing all data or money is omnipresent. Slowly but steadily her parents are becoming more open to the online space. Sometimes they do it with her help, but sometimes they do it all by themselves.

But just like Mr. Sayed and Bhairavi’s parents, increasing numbers of senior citizens are expressing their concerns of data mining and phishing scams. They are all terrified of losing their money or identities. There are always reports of scams but never of the fact that exercising caution and sensibility will help them keep their money and data safe while also being technologically smart.

Sangeeta Ponkshe from Pune says that her only fear regarding the online space is data mining. “My parents are in their early 80s and quite tech savvy but they refuse to do online transactions wary of safety protocols in place.” I have been paying their bills for them, she says. I ask my son for help or learn from YouTube. Similarly, Mamta Kale also from Pune says, “My mom doesn’t use a smartphone. She nurtures a fear of account hacking or typing error.”

While Mamta’s mother is afraid of typos, a resident of Thane, Leela Sheth is unable to navigate through a basic mobile phone. “She faces a language barrier while using technology,” explains her daughter Bhavana Sheth. Having been educated in Gujarati and spoken the language all her life, English on a screen is a big challenge for Mrs. Sheth.

For some it’s fear of losing money or data, for some it’s a barrier altogether. But for some, the online space, especially being restricted to it due to the pandemic, is only a nuisance. Just like Mr. Sayed hates sitting in one place, Jeroo Mulla, a professor and filmmaker from Mumbai strongly dislikes navigating the online.

“I hate online classes. I don’t get to see my students and most of all, I don’t get to dress up and wear all my sarees.” Personal contact with the students is very important for her which she hasn’t been able to do for the past one academic year. “But I guess, it is good in the sense, I learnt how to pay my bills online, do online banking. Not that I am fond of it, but at least now I am aware of the basics.”

The same can’t be said for Mr. Yakub Sayed. Despite working with complicated film tech all his life, his learning of the online space does not pan out like he wishes it would.  He makes repeated attempts to learn but forgets things and eventually gives them up. He is scared of losing his money but he has no option but to use the online space to keep a check on his finances. His 27 year old grandson tells him to file his taxes and get a statement of his bank account online, he listens, nods but doesn’t follow through with it.

This fear among the senior citizens majorly, can be dissipated through people friendly technology that allows a cautious approach to new or apprehensive learners.