Myth busted: Older people are not digitally savvy. Guess what? Not all millenials are either
by Leslie M Faerstein Ed.D., LCSW
As a “digital immigrant” (an insulting and ageist term), I often count on “digital natives” (equally ageist) to help explain programs and apps to me. I have had the good fortune over the years to have young staff who were patient and showed me how to do things (e.g., Power Point, Google Docs, etc.). I wanted to learn how to do them myself, not have them do it for me. As I aged, it seemed that younger people thought that my generation of Baby Boomers didn’t know much about technology — that we could barely figure out how to turn on a computer. Just another myth about older people.
AARP released an extensive study in February 2018 demonstrating that 90% of adults over 50 use personal technology to stay connected — 92% use a laptop or desktop and 70% use a smartphone. And don’t forget –Baby Boomers created Microsoft and Apple.
In my role as Executive Director of amazing.community, I have been exposed to more advanced and interesting technologies like Artificial Intelligence and new ways of approaching problems through tools like Design Thinking so that we can teach women 50+ who have been out of the workforce to upskill for the current world of work. For a project we were working on, I learned how to create a simple chatbot, but not on my own — I had a smart millennial interning with me. I had read all the background and learned the terminology, but was waiting until she arrived in New York thinking she could expedite the learning process. I was wrong. She had as little background and experience in this as I.
We took the challenge of co-creating and mentoring each other in the process across an age difference of 48 years. I didn’t mentor her and she didn’t “reverse mentor” me. We dove in as equals — using my desktop for the creation and her laptop for the instructions and we created a basic chatbot! We presented our experience at a daylong Design Thinking event. On one Power Point slide, we had: “Leslie: Baby Boomer, Computer Science knowledge: 0” and the next: Bianca: Millennial, Computer Science Knowledge: 0”. One interesting outcome, though, is that we realized that if I couldn’t understand something, I blamed myself. Bianca, however, blamed the technology or that the tutorial wasn’t clear. For some of us Baby Boomers, we find it hard to believe that we can’t use logic to understand certain apps rather than that there is something inherently not accessible about the product itself.
The moral of this story is two-fold: many Baby Boomers are indeed digitally savvy and there are millennials who are not versed in all technologies. The beauty and the joy comes from joining together to learn and experience new modalities and in the process have a really fun time.
amazing.community is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand the work horizon for women 50+ and to transform the narrative about aging and innovation by redefining inclusive workplaces and equipping women 50+ to thrive in them
Design Thinking is a method designers use in ideation and development, that also has applications elsewhere. The method describes a human-centered, iterative design process consisting of 5 steps — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.