TECHNOLOGY can be used to take us into the future, but can also help us today to bridge the chasm that divides the generations.
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.”
It’s a common refrain of older people berating youth and it’s certainly not a new refrain; this quote is attributed to the poet Hesoid who lived over 2,000 years ago.
It seems that conflicts between the generations is a worldwide and multi-century tradition. I’m in my late 50s and heading into that dangerous territory where — as I pontificate to my kids about music, video games, politics, name the subject — I hear my parents’ voices as they lectured me so many years ago.
We go through so many evolutions as we age and suddenly we’ve become our parents — it sneaks up as you’re patting yourself on the back for being the coolest dad.
Working Towards A Cause
I founded It’s Never 2 Late in 1999 with my brother and a friend. From day one, our simple concept has been the motivation that anyone — no matter how advanced in years or challenged by disabilities — should be able to take advantage of the health and connectivity benefits provided by computers and the Internet.
It’s been a labour of love, and after several modest and humbling years, I am delighted that the company has achieved so much success throughout the United States and now internationally. Every day, we connect thousands of nursing home and assisted living residents to each other, their loved ones, and the world.
One of the joys we’ve stumbled upon as a company is the power of technology when used as the ultimate intergenerational tool. Technology is not the answer, it’s the tool; the medium used to find a common ground that opens up opportunities for sharing life experiences and imparting true wisdom from generation to generation. And once the door is open, there’s no turning back from this glorious adventure.
How does it work, what does the experience look like? It’s actually a magical journey, and we’ve seen it at its finest between grandparents and grandchildren. Skipping a generation somehow relieves the burden that is sometimes felt between parents and their offspring.
Technology has the ability to be the common ground where they can meet and set out to see a world that leads to mutual astonishment.
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Grandparents can experience the miracles of technology, and the grandkids can absorb the knowledge and wisdom imparted by someone whose body and mind may appear, inaccurately, to be diminished.
Technology As A Bridge
It’s not technology for technology’s sake, but the shared empathy made possible by the experiences that are possible at a touch of a screen — a virtual visit to the Louvre, the online version of the newspaper that the grandparent grew up reading, YouTube clips of meaningful songs, or a historical clip of man walking on the Moon.
Our experience in dealing with residents in the twilight of life has been particularly remarkable. Usually, the realities of the older person’s physical and mental limitations can make connections with their grandkids that much more difficult.
Let’s face it — most kids are not going to raise their hand to volunteer to visit Grandma in the nursing home, particularly if the home is not a comfortable place to visit.
My own kids were my windows on this phenomenon. When they were little, I dragged them into nursing homes, but as time progressed, they developed relationships with loving residents by using technology. Not surprisingly, the visits that were once a chore became meaningful to young and old. My kids shared enriching and memorable experiences with the elders by showing them computer games, flight simulators, email, and just simply browsing the Internet. These shared activities gently opened up doors to conversations, which open up doors to wisdom; and somewhere along the journey the technology that brought them together, became an afterthought to the relationship.
Skipping A Generation Helps
My personal experience and that of my kids is but a reflection of a trend that is expanding because of the wonderful benefits experienced by those who are using technology to stay connected to each other and to the world at large. A report by Penn State and Generations United noted that kids are more engaged when using technology and adults learn technology skills from kids. The same report acknowledged that technology can provide older adults with opportunities to stay connected and with a new sense of purpose. In addition, kids who interact with older adults experienced higher personal and social development compared to kids who don’t.
Capturing life stories, part of my presentation at the Intergenerational Conference, has become a remarkable tool to bring generations together. There are several web-based products currently available that provide excellent toolkits to capture these stories (our favorite is Life Bio). These tools provide a series of questions and easy prompts make the experience very intuitive.
The youth interviews the elder, preferably face-to-face, and the rich answers get turned into digital stories that magically come to life before your very eyes. The experience of sharing memories becomes another way to forge a deep relationship between the elder and the volunteers who are often astonished by the deeds of the person they are interviewing or their grandkids who had no idea of their grandparents’ accomplishments. The increasing availability of video and multimedia tools just adds to the richness of the experience.
My three kids never met their grandfather — what I would give now for them to be able to open a book, or click a link, and have my father magically come to life and tell them of his life’s journey. It would have been priceless.
Technology Breaking Barriers
The world we live in today is complex and it is sometimes difficult to know whether technology has brought us together or made us more isolated. I stay in touch weekly with friends in Australia, Sweden, and all over the United States. Yet, like most of my neighbours, I can’t tell you the names of people who live two doors away from me.
But technology today can break barriers — of generations, distrust, and communication.
As with all worthwhile undertakings, it takes both young and old to get a bit uncomfortable — the young may be uncomfortable approaching older adults and the older adults may be uncomfortable approaching technology. It is up to the rest of us to provide an environment that will encourage a sense of connection and adventure…and then magic can happen.
Maybe Hesoid would have felt differently if he had an iPad….
Jack York is the CEO of It’s Never 2 Late, which builds computers that encourage people to connect through technology.
This article was originally published in STORM in 2014.
Main Image: Shutterstock.com