China’s elderly population, once thought resistant to the digital wave, is embracing short-video platform Douyin like never before. This platform, known as the Chinese version of TikTok, is offering them more than just entertainment – it’s a lifeline to connection, information, and a sense of belonging in a rapidly changing world.
From NBA to News: A Shift in Viewing Habits
Take Gao Xiangjin, a 69-year-old former soldier. With traditional TV channels offering limited choices, he turned to Douyin for his daily dose of news and entertainment.
He follows basketball highlights, analyzes military strategies, and even catches up on global affairs through user-generated content. Douyin’s diverse range of videos, often showcasing viewpoints from different perspectives, provides him with a refreshing alternative to the official narrative.
Beyond Entertainment: A Gateway to Connection and Community
Douyin isn’t just about consuming content; it’s also about building connections. With features like commenting and video calls, elderly users can interact with strangers who share their interests, forming virtual communities that combat loneliness and isolation.
This is especially crucial for the “laopiao” – the elderly who move to unfamiliar cities for their families, often feeling disconnected from their original communities.
Learning New Skills, Embracing New Hobbies
Douyin isn’t just a passive viewing experience. It empowers users to become creators, even at an older age. Huang Chenkuang’s mother, who moved to care for her grandchildren, learned to dance from online tutorials and even surprised her daughter with a new dish from her hometown.
These newfound skills and hobbies not only enrich their lives but also bridge generational gaps as children and grandchildren discover their parents’ hidden talents and interests.
Technology Adoption: Overcoming Barriers and Embracing Opportunities
The rise of affordable smartphones and data plans has made Douyin more accessible to China’s elderly population. Li Yongjian, a researcher, highlights the impact of COVID-19, which forced many older people online in search of connection during lockdowns. Additionally, phone brands are increasingly catering to this demographic with features like large screens and long-lasting batteries.
Challenges and Concerns: Navigating the Digital Landscape
While Douyin offers undeniable benefits, concerns remain. Excessive screen time, the potential for scams, and the need for digital literacy training are all important considerations. Huang Chenkuang expresses her concern about her mother’s growing dependence on the app, fearing it might replace real-life interactions.
A Double-Edged Sword with Unprecedented Opportunities
Douyin’s impact on China’s elderly is multifaceted. It offers entertainment, connection, and a sense of purpose but also raises concerns about addiction and the digital divide. Ultimately, it’s a powerful tool that requires careful navigation. As China’s digital landscape evolves, it’s crucial to ensure that technology empowers, rather than isolates, its older generation.