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The mental impact of technology on boomers

Rapidly advancing technologies can have a psychological impact on the elderly that leaves them feeling isolated and redundant

Technologies that are meant to improve connections can increase anxiety among the elderly
Technologies that are meant to improve connections can increase anxiety among the elderly (Pexels/Anna Shvets)

Prasad Khare, 68, rues that his generation has become obsolete, to say the least. “I can’t get my grandkids to read a book and in the same breath, I cannot understand the concept of AI and ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) either.” Khare says that a lot of his friends feel the same way. “In a recent get-together of my school friends, we were all reminiscing how things were simpler back in the day and how these days, it is very difficult for us to grapple with what’s happening around us and fit in. We all have become rusty old furniture.”

Khare’s sentiment is echoed by that of Anita Iyer, 56, who feels that “the world is changing at an ungodly pace and we’re all just stationary parts in it.” Iyer laments that though she does want to work and be a part of this changing world, it is difficult to do so with the way technology has evolved and how the cultural fabric of the world has changed with it.

The last season of Marvelous Mrs Maisel reflects this in one of its episodes where Mrs Maisel’s father, Abe, is sitting at a dinner table with his colleagues and the group ponders over how society has changed over time and whether or not this change is for the better. Our society’s rapid pace of progress may lead many in the older generation to feel that their skills and values are becoming obsolete, exacerbating communication gaps with the younger generation.

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The fear of becoming irrelevant or outdated can have a significant personal impact on individuals over the age of 50. As they approach or enter their senior years, some may start to feel anxious about their place in a rapidly changing world. They may worry about losing their value, both in the workplace and within their social circles, as younger generations seem to dominate technology and modern trends. With ChatGPT making a lot of roles in workplaces obsolete and changing the very foundation of communication in the society, how will the elderly be impacted? Will it impact their mental health?

Technology and the elderly 
Recent developments in communication technology have enabled seniors to connect easily to their family and friends helping reduce loneliness and improving their quality of life. It has also led to an improvement in banking and healthcare sectors. Online banking and digital transactions offer convenience and accessibility for the older generation, making managing finances easier. Despite the positives, technology is a major reason for anxiety amongst the elderly. The constant changes and improvements in technology can be challenging for seniors to keep up with and feel confident in their ability to adapt. This might get overwhelming for the elderly, leading to frustration, anxiety, and self-doubt.

The older generation may also be susceptible to scams, cyberattacks, and online fraud due to their lack of familiarity with cybersecurity practices. Their limited experience in navigating the digital landscape could make them more vulnerable to deceptive schemes. Arpita Nayak, 59, has been a victim of many cyber-scams, where she bought products of certain websites and never got them delivered or had fraudulent callers. “I have stopped shopping online,” she reveals.

Paradoxically, while technology helps with connectivity, it may also cause social isolation for the elderly. If they think that they are unable to keep up with technological advancements, they might take a step back from digital interactions as they don’t see themselves adding value to interactions or connections anymore.

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The technological divide 
The technological divide among generations leads to a preference for young workers who are more technically proficient as compared to the elderly. Atul Patel, 52, a chartered accountant based in Mumbai recalls how he was let go by the firm where he had worked all his life for someone younger and technologically proficient. “I was worried about how I will provide for my family and started questioning my abilities,” he says.

Manavi Khurana, counselling psychologist and founder-CEO of Karma Center for Counselling & Well-being, Delhi explains, “Financial stress can become a significant concern for the elderly due to perceived obsolescence, leading to potential financial insecurity, particularly when they rely on their job as their primary means of support. Not feeling self-reliant exacerbates anxiety. There is a negative impact on one’s self-identity because it depends on their roles and responsibilities at work and loss of that will lead to self-doubt and a feeling of uselessness.” 

Negative stereotypes in media about ageing and technology can perpetuate the perception that seniors are technologically inept or out of touch. Stereotypes such as ‘analogue person in a digital world’ can reinforce feelings of redundancy and lead to psychological distress. Such feelings can cause anxiety and depression which might eventually lead to the deterioration of their physical health.

The socio-economic factor
Socioeconomic factors play a significant role in how individuals perceive and adapt to technological changes. People and the challenges they face can be interconnected. Where socioeconomic status is a factor, it becomes even more difficult to navigate critical situations. India tends to follow a joint family system where multiple generations live under one roof, which is more prevalent in rural areas. Subsequently, the elderly may continue to hold significant roles in decision-making and family dynamics. However, as urbanization and nuclear families rise, certain elderly individuals may perceive themselves as less important.

No value for tradition
As Khurana mentions, “In many Indian communities, traditional knowledge and skills are highly valued. However, the advancement of technology may overshadow the value of these traditional skills, leading to feelings of inadequacy and redundancy among the older generation.” She adds, “India is a linguistically diverse country with multiple languages spoken in different areas. For older people mainly speaking regional languages and having limited exposure to English, accessing and utilizing technology can be difficult, leading to a sense of alienation.” 

This perception, Khurana elucidates, can lead to a diminished sense of self-worth and a decline in self-confidence. As a result, they may withdraw from new experiences or opportunities, feeling hesitant to adapt to new technologies or engage in novel activities.” She also goes on to say, “The fear of being left behind can also contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially if they perceive that their skills and knowledge are no longer relevant.”

Some may resist embracing new technologies, trends, or ideas, fearing that doing so will make them appear outdated, hindering personal growth and adaptation. “This emotional burden may affect their mental health, potentially leading to symptoms of depression or anxiety,” Khurana warns.

The need of the hour is to recognize that individuals over 50 have a wealth of life experience and wisdom to offer. Promoting age-inclusive attitudes can help counteract these fears and enable them to continue contributing meaningfully to society and their own well-being.

Divya Naik is a Bengaluru-based journalist and writer.

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