Your toddler tries to turn magazine pages by swiping his finger along the bottom of the page, and yet your mom has yet to locate the power button on the new iPad you just bought her. This is seemingly the greatest generation gap in history, and here you are sandwiched in the middle trying to hold the ends together. Although it is tempting to throw up your hands before even trying to bridge this gap, I want to share some insights I learned from three people entrenched in the world of family and technology who I met at the FamilyTech Summit as part of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, who helped me to see that it’s much less about the technical know-how, and much more about our approach and mindset. What I learned is that we must first:
- Banish ageism. It is real, but it can be overcome. Because:
- Just because it’s not native doesn’t mean it can’t be learned. These two insights came from Brenda Rusnak, producer of Cyber Seniors, a documentary about a few teenagers who sought out to teach some local seniors to use the internet. It is both hilarious and heartwarming, and watching the teens try to explain things like email and Facebook to the octogenarians also shows how important it is to:
- Start at the beginning, don’t take what you know for granted. Brenda said some of the teens used the metaphor of the internet as a library and webpages as books. Before you show Nana how to write on someone’s Timeline, explain how Facebook is a virtual rolodex for connecting with family and friends. Finally, from the movie comes the strong message that:
- This is our social responsibility. Showing someone who wasn’t born into the digital age how to use a smartphone or the internet isn’t just cute, it’s necessary. Retired and elderly life is often physically and socially isolating as it is – not being able to connect will only isolate them further. I’m not saying quit your day job and start touring retirement homes performing tutorials, but the next time your parent or older friend asks what it is you’re tapping at, offer to show them (slowly!) how it works. And if you don’t think your parent will be interested when you ask them to learn how to operate a gadget or use a website, then take Dan Tynan’s advice, the Modern Family columnist for Yahoo Tech:
- Get your kids to teach your parents. Indeed if you ask them, who knows if they’ll do it. But if their grandbaby says they can’t wait to start sending them pictures every day, then they’ll be tapping and swiping before you know it. Dan added that this will also make it possible for your parents to:
- Connect with their kids and grandkids unintrusively. Grandparents often feel they are going at a slower pace than the younger generations, and don’t want to bother them during their busy schedules. But if they are in a WhatsApp group or a Facebook friend, then they can receive updates regularly and feel in-the-loop without bothering anyone. An added benefit that Dan shared was that:
- Familiarity now could lead to living independently longer later. A seemingly bold claim, but there are already many devices and apps making it possible to live independently longer. The more an aging parent gets used to keeping in contact and interacting with technology now, the longer independent living will be possible in the future – especially in combination with sensors and tracking technology. Now before you get too overwhelmed, take Robin Raskin’s advice, the founder of Living in Digital Times:
- Start with a single relevant task to do online. Think about the person who is getting online for the first time and what they love to do. Is it books? Listen to an audio book. Teach them to do something they already do regularly-online, let them master that and only then move on. Keep in mind that Robin recalls when it was a $5,000 buy-in to engage with technology, but that’s no longer the case:
- A small investment can go a long way. Even starting to text hi and I love you with grandkids can be downright life changing. And even better than that:
- Technology can help overcome certain challenges that come with age. Robin shared the story of a little boy who told her that he loved talking to his grandpa online because he didn’t have to yell (he could type!).
Just as Cyber Seniors Director, Saffron Cassaday, so eloquently puts it in the film – once we close this gap we can again have three generations in the same house, except that this time it will be a virtual house.