Among the developed countries, including Japan, the aging population is rapidly growing. As of 2017, Japan’s population of 65 and over is 27.7%, with an average life expectancy of 81.09 for men and 87.26 years for women. By 2070, life expectancy is expected to increase by another 10 to 15 years. According to a UN report, 16% of the world’s population is expected to be over 65 by 2050 (2019 United Nations World Population Outlook 2019). The interdisciplinary area of gerontology is attracting attention in this situation. Its aim is to look at old age, the process of aging, the specific difficulties faced by the elderly, and to have the elderly live a healthy, fulfilling and happy life. This includes everything from social welfare and health care, to community building, social activities, safe and secure urban planning, and consumer life. During this forum, we focused on “social technologies” that could respond particularly efficiently to aging issues. From social networking platforms and blogging sites to e-commerce and crowdsourcing, social technology is at the heart of a wide range of stakeholder interactions and collaborations. As technology continues to expand and evolve, it makes it easier for people to share their opinions with others. But technical literacy is very different for older generations. Older people tend to be unfamiliar with new technologies, especially for reasons such as lack of knowledge, health problems, or inactivity. If we can find ways to mitigate these problems to improve the technological literacy of the elderly, we can create a more inclusive society through technology. In fact, building a community where older people have a more important and active role is not only possible, but necessary.
The content discussed in this forum is organized into three points:
First, we were able to discuss in depth the growing energy demand associated with the aging population, securing energy sources, and their technologies and usage. The more older people are active with social technology, the more electricity they consume as a result. In addition to social technology usage, many forms of energy consumption can be assumed, such as the use of electric vehicles, automobile chairs (mobile aids), information equipment, life support robots, and artificial intelligence. In an aging society, it is impossible to maintain a high quality of life without a large amount of energy. In addition, the digital industry must provide simplicity in their devices. The decline in ability as you get older and the amount of energy you need to fill that Ability Gap may lead to a new debate in the future.
As a second point, we discussed the need for a mechanism to connect the elderly and young people. Funds are needed for projects such as social welfare facilities and nursing homes and smart cities. Crowdlending that connects the elderly and young people is also needed, as it is projected that conversations across generations will grow. Also necessary are platforms that allow young people and the elderly to connect in order to exchange tasks and exchange places to live. People familiar with technology will be able to help older people who are prone to estrangement from technology, for example with multisensory information, remote and mobile applications, sharing social networks, risk pooling, and so on.
The final point is the local community. The creation of a sustainable society that local residents take the initiative to form is important. By creating living spaces (community centers, workshops) that involve multiple generations, old and young, we can create a social environment that fosters dialogue across generations and that incorporates the experience of older generations to improve upon the social environment that they had when they were younger. Green space and nature in cities tend to be overlooked when considering urban housing for the elderly. However, spending time outdoors is appreciated by the elderly for social interaction, and is especially important for them to touch the earth, garden, produce cheap and fresh crops, and share them with the neighborhood. With the recent spread of coronavirus infection, travel and business trips have been canceled, and life has been shifted towards the local. It is an opportunity to embrace local communities and live more simply. In difficult times the local community can act as a unit to overcome challenges. Universities with innovative information and knowledge can work to help solve these problem.
We would like to express deep gratitude to all the participants in this forum. When thinking about gerontology in this forum, we realized the importance of incorporating perspectives such as “intergenerational relationships” and “communities” rather than just focusing on the challenges of the elderly. In addition, we focused on technology as a means to facilitate intergenerational exchange and create access to help with the realization of a sustainable elderly society.
Due to COVID-19, the social system will change significantly in the future. At the same time, defaults and other global economic crises may occur. Large companies could restructure, and financial institutions could disappear. Unemployment is on the rise all over the world, and the power of nations may decline. The global situation is extremely severe, and in the midst of this, we would like to take action. We believe there is potential for new innovations to be born from this crisis, and propose a new genre called “Social Gerontology.”
For those interested in ongoing collaboration on this topic, please contact Satoshi Nagano of Ritsumeikan University at email@example.com