The week of January 25, 2015

Respect your elders

By Austin Powell

We were going to call this issue “the Olds.” That’s a playful but still somewhat pejorative term for basically anyone who’s older than a millennial. You know the type: the person who says things like “the Facebook” and still can’t quite figure out email or Bluetooth. Everyone has that one relative who was gifted a laptop but, despite repeated pitches and instructions, still has no interest in using it or calls you for help every time they do.

If anything, this issue proves just how wrong those stereotypes are. Seniors not only have a better perspective on technology than typically credited, but they’re also making damn good use of it. Just look at the senior dating sites profiled here by Aaron Sankin: Companies like Stitch are factoring in compatibility, companionship, and perhaps most importantly, user safety, leading to far more meaningful matches than you’ll probably ever have on Tinder.

As Allen Weiner, 61, reveals in his personal feature “Retirement 2.0,” seniors are also using the Web to launch so-called “encore careers,” acquiring new skills online to venture out into new fields or pursue a lifelong passion professionally. If you need further proof than Weiner’s own encore as an editor at large for the Daily Dot, look no further than Laurie Alaoui, a grandma in San Francisco who’s currently learning to code and hopes to graduate to Silicon Valley’s tech workforce soon—ageism and sexism be damned. I find both of their stories profoundly humbling and inspiring.

Where there exists a digital divide between technology and the older generations who struggle to use it, it’s worth examining what’s causing it—and what it will take to close it. As I found out first-hand when I bought my first Mac last year, the tech that some of us find completely intuitive can be absolutely backwards to someone less familiar with it. And ease of use should be the top priority when developing software and programs that could empower older users, especially as more and more of the healthcare industry moves online.

“I have a problem with the fact that our Internet seems to continue to rely on an assumed familiarity with how it works,” offers Zan McQuade elsewhere in this issue, reflecting on her father’s struggle with Parkinson’s and the roadblocks it causes for him online. “[W]hy aren’t we spending more of our efforts finding ways to bring the rest of the world to the Internet? I’m not talking about trying to get my dad on Twitter; I’m talking about finding ways to get benefits of the Internet—the connectivity, the freedom of information, the global outreach—to my dad without him having to buy into whatever it is we’re currently part of, both physically and philosophically.”

Our parents, as Jaya Saxena eloquently explains here, tend to think that “kids today” are too plugged in and too trusting of the services and social networks that control the vast majority of their personal data.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe we’d all be wise to heed the advice Cooper Fleishman’s mom, Joanne Caputo, offers in this week’s cover story.

“Exit your browser and enter your kitchen (or any creative space),” she says. “Make something nice for yourself. Have a visceral experience, instead of a vicarious one.

“You have to put the tool down, put the phone down,” she continues. “Just disconnect and breathe. Develop hobbies. Do something else with your eyes that don’t involve staring at a monitor.

“Go outside and play!”

Thanks. I think I’ll do just that.

Photo via Andrew*/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)