At the beginning of this corona crisis, a young Digital Minister of Taiwan drew attention from all over the world. Her name is Audrey Tang: the former programmer of Apple who was born in 1981 and whose gender is officially “none” (transgender). She became famous internationally for developing, in just three days, an app with which people are able to access the latest information about the distribution of face masks in Taiwan so that people there do not fall into panic under the pandemic.

Since I saw news about Tang in the beginning of the corona crisis, I began to follow her and have read many interview-articles about her. Her perspective to see the Digital Age is very different from commonly seen articles on digitals technology, which mainly focuses on the virtue and vices it will bring to the world. Instead, Tang specifically emphasizes the importance of the harmony between the latest digital technologies and people’s life, arguing that it is not humans who have been adjusted to the virtue and vice of digital technologies, but it is IT technologies that have to be adjusted to humans everyday life.

In a recent interview, Tang states that “the idea that elderly people are weak at digital technology is wrong: it is not a problem of the users, but it is a problem of programming.” Tang continues that programmers today must develop new technologies by putting him/herself into the shoes of those who might be most bad at using the technology. Tang’s mask-distribution app mentioned above, for example, nicely embodies this. Instead of digitizing every process of data collecting of Taiwanese people’s mask purchase, Tang adapted the custom of always bringing analogue health insurance cards when he/she is going to a pharmacy, which is popular among Taiwan’s elderly people. And as a result, the App became very accessible to older people and Tang could collect and show the latest data of mask-distribution to the people and could avoid panics.

Tang sees the value of digital technologies in its flexibility and possibility of covering up what analogue technologies cannot do. Thus, Tang questions the attitude to see the use of digital technologies as the purpose itself but not as a method to realize something. Through the ongoing corona crisis, people really focused on the significance of digital technologies in today’s society more than ever, and Tang was one of the figures who drew attention in this context. Despite that, she modestly and calmly argues that the most important thing in this corona period is to make sure that everyone wash their hands with soap. To me, this sounds like a gentle reminder of the unchanging importance of living in the real world however we spend the time online.

I personally found Tang’s philosophy on digital technology very attentive and humane: the virtues which sometimes missed out in discussing digital culture. Tang’s success with the app shows that Digital culture is not only something new to us but it could be much more enriched by coexisting and by being mediated with our culture, tradition and customs before the Digital Age.

With this in mind, I will go back to thinking of Japan in the next blog, which is the final of the series.

President Online. “オードリー・タン「高齢者はデジタル弱者というのは誤解」.” Accessed on 4th December, 2020.

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  • kevinsousa
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 5:26 pm 0Likes

    The flexibility of the Digital is often so forgotten by who society expects to engage with it. I remember my mom being so excited to learn about computers, but the more I grew older the less she seemed keen to learn more. She would often use excuses “That’s already not part of my age”, and I think seeing it as you did in the article is much more humane. Technology is kinda failing at who it is supposed to support: humanity, all of it, not just the hip youngster with fresh brain capacity to understand technology much easier. A world in where elderly people are part of the Digital Movement might be at its starts, but I think it’s future generations that will break down those ageist standards for technology:)

  • Aron
    Posted December 16, 2020 at 2:48 pm 0Likes

    Very interesting story, I personally had not heard of Tang before.

    Key points here do touch base with a lot of the current UX (User Experience) trend; Applications and devices should not require one to read hefty instruction manuals nor long video tutorials. It should feel natural and intuitive to use them. One interesting and perhaps a bit old is the example of Google’s ‘Material Design’ philosophy. It hoped to bring in young & old alike by having software look and respond like physical object in the world. e.g opening and app would be like placing a paper over another one and creating depth. ( It seems however this hasn’t dramatically increased the ease of use for elderly people.
    It might we worthwhile to do more proper UX research for companies specifically targeting elderly populations eager to learn.

    One of the main reasons I believe that hinder such development is the commercial value of elderly people. While it might be evident why focus should be put on elderly engagement regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be less worthwhile for companies to spend capital on an age group who rarely employs this market.

    All with all, great blog post! A very interesting topic which is unfortunately rarely spoken.

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