Q&A  | 

Age will be irrelevant in the upcoming digital society, by Manel Domínguez

"We must stop talking about age and empower the human being with an active mind."


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Manel Domínguez is a teacher, researcher, author and lecturer. His work focuses on the concept of Living Labs, i.e. urban social innovation laboratories.

Since 2010 Domínguez has studied active aging and the society of knowledge. "We have to stop talking about age," he says. "Age will be irrelevant in the new human being paradigm".

At the International Congress on Vulnerability and Digital Culture, you spoke of ‘digital seniors’ or older people and co-creative innovation. How widespread a phenomenon is it, given that almost 40% of people between 65 and 74 years old do not use the Internet?

It is not something anecdotal. It is a direct consequence of innovation and digital transformation and some governments are already putting a lot of effort in it. It’s an innovation process which is being led by the ENoLL (European Network Organization of Living Labs), according to which universities, living-labs, companies, governments, individuals and other central axes of the society of knowledge must create the momentum for digital humanization to become something real.

How can the phenomenon of digital seniors become more generalized?

With digital transformation people centered policies. The evolution of the society of knowledge is unstoppable.

Administrations should have a hands on approach to empower the elderly, generating transversal co-creative ecosystems for all ages and abandoning the care only approaches for older people, allowing them to enter the flows of social innovation. For that they can rely on living-labs.

Life expectancy continues to increase. The average life expectancy in Spain is now 83.59 years, but we will reach the age of 110 in just 15 or 20. It is a logical consequence of an anthropological process called neoteny, the rejuvenation of species.

In your opinion, does the Cornellá Citilab Senior Lab set an example and what other success stories do you know in this field?

The Citilab, promoted by the Cornellà City Council, the Barcelona Provincial Council and the Ministry of Industry, at the proposal of Vicenç Badenas in 2003, is the first of its kind in Spain. But it is also part of the 14 years old ENOLL network, along with 150 other active members in Europe and up to 440 worldwide.

The Covid19 crisis has shown how precarious elderly care structures were. Can the demographic digital divide be reduced without digital services for the elderly in place?

Precisely because Internet use by people over 65 is around 40%, there are still not many applications or services in place. 

However, the market has identified a new niche and we are going to see an exponential growth of products and services aimed at various age groups.

It is evident that the elderly are an incredibly heterogeneous and diverse group. In the US the “senior economy” is flourishing and it’s slowly reaching Europe too.


How important is the debate on how to take care of our elders in the digital society in a way that is inclusive and really meets their needs?

We are building a new society.

My field is not healthcare, nevertheless I believe the debate should not revolve around “caring” but around “empowering”; technological tools do not bring digital transformation on their own, but innovation and empowerment based on ideas, projects and cross-sectional co-creation does.

Do you know if this debate is taking place in Spain at a regional or state level?

Yes it is. Firstly in our Citilab center which is part of the ENOLL network; secondly, there’s research being carried out on these issues both at the Sociological Research Center and at Spanish universities. Perhaps this debate is still pending at street level. It is also undeniable that the Anglo-Saxon world is ahead, as in other fields, and has been holding conferences on the subject for years.

The INE also reveals that almost half of the Spaniards who live alone are over 65 years, and due to the closure of small businesses, ‘radar shops’ can no longer alert us about possible problems of elderly people living alone. Can technology help mitigate a problem of which it is also the cause?

Digital transformation together with IA will bring along a new society, other kinds of employment, resources…. Everything is changing and this entails a new vision of social organization and understanding society.

Just as we went from an agricultural society to an industrial society, now we are going from the society of knowledge to a “lab society”.

Do we need to rethink the role we want our elders to have in our society?

We should be rethinking many things, policies on education, health, work…. This is essential because we are transitioning to a digital economy that implies understanding its impact on the whole society, elderly included.

We must stop talking about age, we need a new approach for the new paradigm of human being for which age is irrelevant.

The goal is to empower the human being with an active mind, regardless of age. And that governments go beyond the care approach and empower the capacities of so far called “older” people.