Society has a tendency to view the elderly generation as technology-challenged adults who frequently view the Internet and technological innovation in a negative light. I am not an exception to this stereotyping rule, but I choose to challenge this perspective. I explored this generational discrepancy with Michelle, a 56-year-old woman from Houston, Texas.
Michelle is the mother of three young women who are transitioning into their adult lives. Aging, she says, is not so bad as she is enjoying her wonderful family and devoting more of her time to her passions. She devours every book that crosses her path, practices meditation, and has an ongoing career as an artist.
As a child, Michelle was hungry to learn and spent many afternoons reading out of one of the many Encyclopedia Britannica volumes that sat on a shelf outside the bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters. When she was not reading, Michelle spent her time learning about people. Observation taught her in the same way that reading did, she explained.
Michelle remembers less filler activities and more periods of boredom than millennial’s seem to deal with today in light of social media. This boredom, she believed, was beneficial for her because it gave birth to creativity that led to her artwork. Her home had one telephone attached to the wall in the kitchen. Because she lived with three other siblings, each sibling received a limit of ten minutes per phone call, and the phone could only be used from ten o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night.
Michelle’s first cell phone was a flip phone given to her by her husband, despite her opposition. She remembered thinking: “This is so stupid, I’m a stay at home mom.” She absolutely could not see the use in it. Now she says she could not live without it because it allows her to keep in touch with her daughters.
Michelle and I primarily discussed her journey with Facebook. She found immediate delight in her ability to keep up with her daughters’ lives through statuses, pictures, and other features. She considers herself a “Facebook stalker,” as I assured her many of us do. But she also enjoys following pages that provide articles about science and current events, as well as entertaining videos.
Facebook has also been an effective outlet of support in Michelle’s life. Several years ago, Michelle’s daughter Emily had a skiing accident that nearly killed her, and Michelle’s entire family spent many terrible, grief-filled weeks in the hospital waiting to see how Emily would heal. After the accident, however, Michelle experienced an outpour of love and support from friends on Facebook that she saw anywhere from once a week to once a year.
Based on her experience, Michelle is fairly positive about the impact Facebook has made on her life. It has helped her family in a time of disaster, but it has also made positive impressions on her in simpler ways. For Michelle, Facebook is a good way to passively keep up with the lives of her friends and family—whether they are close relatives or distant friends. Michelle has deduced that Facebook is becoming primarily a tool for older people who want to enjoy the benefits of online communication.
When asked about the overarching impact of technology, Michelle immediately stated: “Knowledge is power.” Technology such as Facebook, she says, is a tool that creates knowledge and—ultimately—peace. Online discussion brings prevalent social issues to the forefront and teaches Millennial’s and Baby Boomers alike about injustice they had no prior knowledge on. Michelle enjoys reading articles daily that teach her something new about gender issues, race, and other hot topics. Facebook challenges her thought processes and teaches her how to better approach people and acknowledge the variety of experiences we all have.
Michelle sees it more as a tool that allows people to communicate and bridge differences while creating discussion that can only lead to a more educated, self-aware society. For Michelle, communication and education go hand in hand. To see technology bring these two ideas together is, according to Michelle, absolutely awesome.