Opinion | The elderly should be part of our technological world

By Anna Fischer, Staff Columnist

On a recent trip to my grandparents’ house in the Cleveland suburbs, I had the opportunity to partake in one of my favorite pastimes with my grandmother — gossip. As old grandfather clocks chimed the day away, my grandmother and I spent hour after hour talking about nearly everything under the sun. Finally, we got to a topic that many elderly people feel strongly about — technology.

But instead of bashing the technological world, my grandmother told me a story about one of her friends who, for his 80th birthday, was gifted Michael Bublé tickets. He was absolutely ecstatic, but the tickets were exclusively available online, and he only had a flip phone. Not willing to yield to this hindrance, he wrote a letter to the venue, who responded with one in kind. This response letter was supposed to grant him access to the concert, but when he arrived, he was denied at the gate because the venue had no way to scan his letter. This story absolutely devastated me. While he eventually did make it into the concert, it cost him nearly an hour of confusion and wandering around, which is not easy for an 80-year-old.

My grandmother’s friend is not alone in this struggle to adapt to a rapid increase in society’s technological dependence — Pew Research Center reports that only 75% of people 65 and older are on the internet. While that is a majority, it means that a quarter of the elderly population is not accessing the internet at all. As we become more reliant on online appointment booking, virtual restaurant menus and a more digitized world, it is essential that we make an effort to help the older generation adapt.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a huge surge of digital technology use when companies and schools moved fully remote. Even as the world returns to near normalcy again, the pandemic has facilitated the realization that remote school and work is possible. According to Garter’s 2020 survey of company leaders, 82% intend to allow their employees to work remotely post-pandemic. In another Pew Research study, 53% of surveyed adults claimed the internet was “essential” for them during periods of widespread shutdowns. The pandemic had only solidified our societal dependence on technology, further excluding the older generation from everyday life.

The pandemic itself has been wrought with political discontent and has exacerbated differing points of view between various groups, the older generation of Baby Boomers and the younger Gen Z included. The rise of the phrase “OK Boomer” reveals the growing tension between the two generations. “OK Boomer” is, quite frankly, a dismissive phrase to invalidate the thoughts and opinions of the older generation. In general, “OK Boomer” represents the widespread ridicule the older generation has faced from Gen Z, particularly when it comes to the difficulties of adapting to the modern world, especially technology. Gen Z’s grasp of technology does provide advantages in a world reliant on technology, but these advantages shouldn’t be limited to the younger generation.

This reliance on technology goes far deeper than online-only concert tickets. Many newspapers, most elders’ main source of news, have shifted exclusively online — I mean, the odds that you are reading this column online are extremely high. The online shifts keep coming — making appointments, ordering food and simply being in touch with the outside world have all become more and more reliant on the internet. Even having a voice and sharing your opinion has moved to online forums.

Whether Gen Z wants to admit it or not, the voices of our elderly are important. Sharing their stories provides not only a sense of catharsis for the older generation, but also provides the younger generation with so many learning opportunities

The phrase “history repeats itself” is not uncommon. What that phrase truly implies is that we need to be willing to listen to and analyze history so that we are not doomed to make the same mistakes. The elderly population is our living history — their stories inform us of the past and help us choose what we want our future to look like. Right now, so many of those stories are told and experienced exactly how I learned from my grandmother — word of mouth.

In the wake of the internet, in-person storytelling has become neglected much in the same way our elders have. Technology has allowed us to begin sharing our stories online, and if we continue to leave our elders behind when it comes to technological advances, their stories and the learning opportunities that come along with them will vanish when they are no longer around to tell them.

I have had the opportunity to share a story that my own grandmother told me online, and here it will live forever. If we begin to encourage and assist the elderly in telling their stories online, we can create an archive of phenomenal history and learning opportunities. Furthermore, technology is essential when it comes to being engaged in societal life — something necessary for the health and well-being of our elderly population. 

I can’t wait to send my grandma this article, to show her how much I learn from her and how valuable her stories and words are. Here, on the internet, her words will live forever. Let’s help our elderly make a mark on this technological world before they no longer can.

Anna Fischer writes about female empowerment, literature and art. She’s really into bagels. Write to her at [email protected].