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Digital discrimination


I like to buy an English-language newspaper every week, but this part of my routine is becoming harder to achieve, as print versions are being transferred online more and more often. This practice is hard on people who are beyond a certain age, and who like the feel, smell, and look of paper and newsprint. In my case, there is also genetic input: one great-uncle produced Victorian township Chiltern’s The Federal Standard for decades (and gave Barrie Cassidy his start) while another was a proof-reader for The Sydney Morning Herald.

The only printed paper I can currently rely on is Britain’s Financial Times Weekend, which has too much emphasis on economics, luxury lifestyle and posh real estate for my taste. But the culture and letters sections are a great consolation. Last week I was particularly struck by a letter written by an 87-year-old woman who said she had poor vision, and that she had to ‘stare through thick spectacles’ in order to interact with today’s world via her computer: she complained that these days it is impossible to contact an actual person when doing even routine business. I am a good way off 87, and am about to collect new glasses, but found myself agreeing whole-heartedly with her complaints about online applications.

In the provincial Greek town of Kalamata the bank manager, dressed immaculately in suit and tie, with the regulation length of white shirt-cuff showing, used to hold court at an enormous desk, empty save for an overflowing ashtray. No longer. This stately figure has now disappeared, and the customer has regularly to battle machines in order to pay rent or keep ahead of bank loans. No teller will give personal service, although they are often forced to help ageing Luddites like me who are baffled by buttons and click requirements and make their frustration obvious. But often no help is forthcoming: recently, an Athenian friend of mine, not much older than I, but widowed and not at all computer or gadget-savvy, was comprehensively blocked from attaining a service she needed because she does not possess a mobile phone.

The FT correspondent made salient and valid points about registering, scanning, passwords and the need to confirm them, but reserves particular ire for two-step verification and the stoppage of access. I’ve never been denied access, but I have been stopped in my digital tracks for reasons I still don’t understand: just recently, while making a book purchase, or trying to, it was a case of ‘thus far, and no farther.’ The problem was solved eventually, but not without much waste of time and a loss of temper on my part.

There is a particular humiliation involved: the digital world often defeats and even excludes worthy citizens who grew up at a time when technology of many sorts was quite different: we had writing pads and pens, bank books and cheque books, and paid cash for most things. Public transport operated on a system involving paper tickets, and so did libraries. Now the cash or card? question has reached even Greece. But one good thing; it is now much harder for business people to evade tax when cards are used so often.

I suppose the FT correspondent has had many low moments as she tries to cope with things that used to be simple. I know I have. Possibly the lowest one came last November, when I was minding my three youngest grandchildren for the best part of a week. This obviously involved cooking at regular intervals. I managed to master the oven, but the stove top had me defeated. There it was: an implacable black surface with hotplates and a few little rings that apparently controlled them.

My elder granddaughter is seven. When I was seven, my family and I lived in a Wimmera township, and my mother cooked on a monster of a woodstove that had to be kept fed with mallee roots and was black-leaded with monotonous regularity. Many decades later, here I am in Greece, and having to call on my granddaughter to solve the mysteries of the stove top, which she did with a very efficient tap of her fingers: she wanted her Greek equivalent of spaghetti Bolognese. She got it and was pleased, but all sense of power had drained away from me. ‘Get over it, Mum,’ said my son. ‘She’s grown up in a digital world, and you haven’t.’

How very true. And how to cope with this? My way is to acknowledge that my grandchildren may perhaps be growing up in a brave new world, but I keep trying to make them aware of an old one that was also brave in its way.




Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Tech, Digital, Newspapers, Publication, Online, Automation



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Existing comments

Thanks for this article Gillian - thought provoking as usual. This technological effect can strike anyone who gets isolated from the latest and greatest in bells and whistles. It's not just older people. I get irritated and annoyed by apps that might seem intuitive to use to the developers but seem quite opaque to me, just because I don't think the way the developers do. People who, because of their circumstances, cannot get access to devices that run up to date software are inevitably going meet with frustration as the apps they use have glitches or fail to work at all. The whole idea of the IT revolution was to make our lives easier, not to leave people seething with rage and frustration. It seems we have created a whole new way of creating disadvantage to the poor, the uneducated and the elderly. Not enough companies have sufficient well trained staff standing by to help when, inevitably, some poor person has a problem that an automated system can't handle. It is getting extremely difficult to talk to real person. 'Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal'

Stephen | 04 July 2024  
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Stephen: I often think that if everything - especially government services - is on-line - then the government ought to be providing us with the laptops. At least one to each household and with apps regularly up-dated or at least a local suburban/village hub with multiple devices available for citizens - homeless or not - with an attendant/attendants making access easy… just a thought.

Jim Kable | 05 July 2024  

Excellent idea, Jim - Are there votes in though, it won't happen otherwise. Perhaps a voucher system so we can put the funds towards something suitable instead of some dreadful piece of low spec. rubbish.

Stephen | 08 July 2024  

I’m with you all the way! Luckily there’s still an actual bank building with actual people who help near me. I am not just a Luddite, but I’m disturbed by the increase in scams. Thanks for your perceptive comments.

Juliet | 04 July 2024  
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Hi Juliet, Gillian's article came around the time when I was trying to sort out a quite simple matter with the ATO and found getting to a human almost impossible. Then I discovered the ATO switchboard phone number. It was like a magic wand. Gillian's article made me think a bit more. We probably should annoy some politicians. - politely of course.

Stephen | 08 July 2024  

Thank you, Gillian, for this article on the gap between this generation and the previous one on matters to do with technology advances, as well as all your articles on so many topics of interest to most of us. Please don't stop, because even if we don't always comment on your writing, there are many of us who truly appreciate your wisdom. Thank you!

Helen Nickas | 04 July 2024  
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Hear! Hear!

Jim Kable | 05 July 2024  

Last night late home due to delayed trains for some reason from Central through towards Newcastle I had to rush to log on to an IPAN Zoom meeting discussing how to disentangle our country from the military and political stranglehold of the US. I could not gain entry unto a half-hour into the 90 minute discussion - I missed seeing a friend - former diplomat and historian Alison Broinowski but finally entered the service as Brian Toohey, then Richard Tranter and Greg Barnes in turn spoke. Later in an exchange with Alison she mentioned her husband Richard - a former Ambassador for Australia - sent the link to log-in found himself blocked. Both into their 80s. So here we were. Fighting against the frustrations. The reason we were in Sydney yesterday was because via Facebook last week I was contacted by a chap asking if I had taught at Casula HS. Well, yes - 45 years ago - for a month! Turns out he was one if the students I’d taught - we’d taken him and a classmate on an outing. 1979. He’d never forgotten - both lads then 14 - from Vietnam. He’d searched on line looking for Mr Cable… finally tried Kable! Bingo. So Gillian, like you, I know - finding the gold of this digital technology amongst the frustrations… Young Jeff of an entirely different name then - turns 60 this coming December! He took us to lunch! Hurrah!

Jim kable | 05 July 2024  

A very brave article. Digital Discrimination is very much a harsh reality worldwide

Stathis T | 07 July 2024  

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