Going digital is no quick fix for Christmas cheer - Alastair Stewart

Professor Jason Leitch casually torpedoed Christmas when he suggested Scots should "get their digital Christmas ready." His mistake wasn't in stating the obvious, but in presuming that digital is a quick fix for our older neighbours and family members.

Monday, 26th October 2020, 7:00 am
Professor Jason Leitch wants us to have a 'digital' Christmas
Professor Jason Leitch wants us to have a 'digital' Christmas

Granted, the 2019 Scottish Household Survey reported 88 per cent of adults use the internet either for work or personal use. Sixty-six per cent of those aged 65-plus responded in the affirmative (compared to 29 per cent in 2007). While 99 per cent of adults between 16-24 reported using the internet, just 43 per cent of those aged 75-plus said that they did too.

But a considerable amount has changed in a year. Just using the internet and depending on it for food orders, banking, billing, and your only visual contact with family and friends is something different.

How many of our older citizens can comfortably do these things?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Can they afford a tablet or a smartphone or a good laptop? Do they know which one to get? Can anyone – in the current restrictions – visit and set up all the hardware up with a useful tutorial?

There is something loaded in the phrase 'digital Christmas'. There's an implication that a family member will just pop round to fire up a Zoom app. It is absurd to expect any generation to miraculously learn the gadgets, culture and methodology of digital communications at the drop of a hat when household visits are restricted.

The problem is not 'if' older citizens can learn the digital ropes (they're made of sterner stuff than we are). It's getting them the support in the middle of a pandemic.

These concerns are ubiquitous for families and support groups across Scotland. If someone is older and they have no family, who do they rely on when home visiting is curtailed, and yet they're meant to have a 'digital Christmas'?

Age Scotland has already warned that around 100,000 older people in Scotland ate Christmas dinner alone last year. We need to remain vigilant of exclusion when 'digital' is the new lingua franca of business and life.

Covid-19 has forced businesses and the hospitality sector to be digital innovators. You need a phone to see a menu, order to your table and register for a track and trace. It would be a cruel irony if the innovations to get us moving while protecting the vulnerable actually exclude older people even more.

Santa might be a key worker according to the first minister, but he's also a chap of a certain age. Before making sweeping proclamations about quick-fix digital solutions for cancelled holidays, let's take five and think exactly what we're asking of families across Scotland.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @ agjstewart