Jordan Mittler, a sophomore at The Ramaz Upper School in New York City and a participant in the Wharton Global Youth Summer Program, is the founder of Mittler Senior Technology, a company that helps senior citizens adapt to the world of technology. In this student essay, Jordan shares the story of how he started his business and why it has become so critical during this time of social isolation — especially in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
In the next few months, Wharton Global Youth will be featuring a new essay every week, written by students around the world who are at home and eager to share their stories of entrepreneurship, leadership and experiences with business.
Five years ago, I gifted my grandparents, Janet and Mark Mittler, iPhones because it was painful for me to watch them still using flip phones! I have always been passionate about technology. I needed to get my grandparents, with whom I am very close, on board with the latest gadgets. It never even occurred to me that they would have no idea how to use an iPhone. They did not know how to perform many of the basic functions that come so easily to my generation, such as texting, Facetiming, photographing — and the list goes on.
And so, the idea for my business was born. I knew I needed to help this older generation, who missed the technology boom and was literally scared of trying to figure out our new connected world. As a result of this very real fear, they were often left alone and out of touch because they couldn’t communicate like everyone else.
Bonnie’s Got Mail
I decided to test my market concept at the local nursing home. I will never forget walking through those doors. I was only 11 at the time, and the director looked at me as if I had 10 heads. I went to the recreation floor and asked over a microphone: “Who would like free technology help?” I only had one taker. Her name was Bonnie Fisher, and I sat with her one-on-one for more than a year providing technology lessons. You should have seen Bonnie light up when she figured out how to connect with her sister and friends over email! I needed to figure out a way to reach a bigger audience.
I reached out to my synagogue, Congregation Kehilath Jeshrun, and asked if they would send a letter by mail promoting free technology help to all of their members over the age of 65. The synagogue was flooded with phone calls from interested seniors looking to enroll in tech class each Sunday. My temple, affiliated with my school, also let me use the school’s computer lab to hold my weekly classes. So many seniors showed interest that I had to maintain a waitlist. I got them into the classroom and taught them everything from texting to FaceTime and how to navigate the internet.
Fast forward to February 2020, and my classes were booming. I had even inspired some of my friends to join me in volunteering their time as teaching assistants. I had just added another class to fit in as many beginner and intermediate seniors as possible, and I felt like I was in a very good position to start scaling my business to reach even more learners.
We all know what happened next. Coronavirus swept through the world and our country, hitting the senior population the hardest and having a grim impact on New York City (reporting nearly 4,500 deaths through the beginning of April). During this time, I canceled my Sunday classes as my own schedule moved to at-home online learning.
I also realized, however, that senior citizens were suddenly even more cut off than ever. This new world of distancing was going to throw the older generation into more social isolation than they had ever experienced. One of my students, Roz Zuger, is 94 years old. I knew she would be disappointed without her weekly dose of tech class. So, I decided that I would attempt to continue my classes online via Zoom and walk all of my seniors through setting up the application and account. I started with Roz, spending endless phone calls with her to get her set up and comfortable with the online meeting platform. Roz had lots of trouble with the audio function on Zoom, and we slowly worked through this together.
After missing only one in-person class – and sending multiple texts and reminder calls — I had my whole class plus others online with me for our first virtual session. I updated my curriculum to be most helpful for seniors during this time when they were homebound and alone. For example, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the Rabbi Emeritus of my synagogue and Principal Emeritus of my school, needed help creating a group chat so he could communicate with all his children at one time. He was having particular trouble setting this up. I was able to show him virtually how to work through all the issues.
Facetiming and Ordering Groceries Online
The key to my teaching success with the older generation is showing, not just explaining. For seniors, talking in technology terms is less effective than presenting them with a visual of how to do something. They’re just not used to the language of technology. Roz, for example, was only able to launch Zoom after I Facetimed with her and sent her pictures via text of the next steps she needed to take. I helped Rabbi Lookstein by sharing visuals with him from my own computer screen.
In the past few weeks, we have been figuring this out as we go along – and it’s working. I started to record all of my Zoom sessions, so the seniors could replay any section of our class for review. After each online session, I send out a link to the recording, as well as a message with everything covered in class that day. My updated curriculum includes showing my students (which total some 80 seniors) how to order groceries online, how to order from Amazon, how to Facetime to stay connected, how to access online newspapers, and, of course, how to mute and unmute their Zoom audio.
It has been really rewarding for me to help so many people become tech-savvy during a time when technology has never been more fundamental to our daily lives. Social distancing has helped me bridge even further the gap between generations – and empower older people with the very valuable tool of connection.
How did Jordan Mittler think like an entrepreneur in a time of crisis? Need help? Check out this Wharton Global Youth article for guidance.
Initially, Jordan only had one customer. Why was Bonnie so important to the growth of his idea and his business?
Have you used innovation to respond to needs during the coronavirus pandemic? Share your story in the Comment section of this article.
Wow! It’s incredible how technology can connect everyone. Many people often say that technology drifts us apart, but I’d like to disagree. In the current age, technology lets people from all walks of life to seamlessly connect. From Jordan’s example of how he helped local senior citizens be accustom to technology, it indeed shows how something as small as a smartphone can bridge generational divides.
Moreover, I’d like to add that I’ve seen a similar experience with my grandparents. My grandparents currently reside in India while I live in the US. This poses a problem as we cannot communicate readily. However, I found a solution to that vexing issue last summer. My family and I decided it was time for a change in the technology my grandparents were using, so we bought them iPhones. I helped them understand the ins and outs of how to use the technology which they were not familiar with. Because of this, they often facetime us from India and have even become like teenagers, as now they are glued to their phones.
I really enjoyed reading your anecdote about your grandparents in India. I could relate to this issue since my grandparents live in Maryland, while I reside in New Jersey. Pre-isolation, my extended family and I would visit them almost bimonthly. This was crucial to their well-being, as they live alone in a rural area. During the quarantine, I helped introduce them to Zoom, which has been a useful online tool. Now that they are capable of using it, our entire family has weekly digital chats. In relation to this article, our examples of giving help to our grandparents exemplify the responsibility of younger generations to take initiative with technology. Jordan allowing the Rabbi Emeritus of his synagogue to communicate with all his children at once is an important example of lending knowledge and skills to older generations to maximize efficiency and happiness during these times of uncertainty.
I understand that technology helps connect people, especially during this time of endless quarantines. It is beneficial that the older generation is taking an interest in technology, breaking the stereotype that the elderly reject new ideas. After all, technology was and is made to make humans’ lives easier. However, while reading both your comments, Vishnu and Charlie, along with the article, I see that in all the cases of older people using technology, it is because the elderly generation have no other ways to stay connected. Now, this sparked a curious thought inside me—the elderly are using tech because especially during this time period, they really need it to prevent themselves from becoming isolated. But when it comes to young people, we just use tech because we are so addicted to it. We reach for a phone because it’s just what teens do. We text, FaceTime, and play multiplayer games with each other simultaneously. For the elderly, the chance to be able to connect with their loved ones is a big highlight in their life. They have not experienced such ease and luxury for much of their lives.
In contrast, teens have grown up around technology. We should try to bring back a culture that is less focused on technology usage to grow up appreciating the time we use technology, especially to connect with others. The younger generation is so desensitized by constant interaction through texting and voice/video calls that we often fail to appreciate it. I was surprised by the enthusiasm of the elderly when Jordan offered classes, but now I realize that it’s because they have realized its value and are taking efforts to gain the most out of it. For me, it took spending some time in quarantine to realize this. My friends and I are always complaining how we are so lonely, when we have actually been texting and calling daily before the COVID-19 outbreak. Teens need to shift a little bit away from the constant technology usage and take time to do other things that do not require technology—perhaps even teaching their elderly relatives about technology, as Jordan did.
I also have another major concern: older people are already at huge risk to scams and privacy issues, and presenting them with increased technology would give others more opportunities to take advantage of the elderly. I already admire Jordan very much for being able to accomplish the feat of teaching the elderly about technology, and I am also very impressed at how he runs his program so professionally and in such an organized way. But I also hope that Jordan, along with you, Vishnu and Charlie, for your grandparents, have presented the gift of technology as well as explained the dangers that come with technology. There are many scammers and hackers that target the elderly, as they are known to take weaker security measures without knowing the consequences. They are more susceptible to common false alerts on the internet and on phone calls. When we think of introducing technology to the elderly, thinking about their tech security and scam-awareness are not the first things that come to mind, so I think there should be further steps taken to make that a priority. Still, I understand that connecting with loved ones is a priority in this case, as it is a good thing that your grandparents have been able to establish a system of communication to maximize the time you all share. I hope there will be more cases similar to that of yours and Jordan’s students. That way, the world can truly be connected and everyone will FEEL connected!
It is interesting that you note that students now are doing school from home and despite being tech savvy, they miss the socialization of school and may have to find other ways of relating to their friends or spending their time. They can stimulate their minds thinking about how they can contribute to society, or better their reading and writing skills.
It is important for children and grandchildren to recognize that their senior relatives can benefit from learning technology, and a little patience in instructing them will make them so happy. On a personal note, my Rabbi has done so much for my family and has been there for all of our family’s life events, so it gave me personal pleasure to help teach him how to connect with his family in new ways during these challenging times.
I love your personal experience with your grandparents. Your thoughts remind me that helping the older generation learn the use of technology also help us connects our lives with theirs.
This is wonderful to hear that you got your grandparents iPhones and they are now using FaceTime. It is interesting that you point out that technology sometimes causes people to drift apart, maybe because it is often something people do alone without communicating with others. There are so many elements of technology like face time or zoom that allow people to connect virtually.
It sounds like we both share Jordan’s experience with the elderly population. I definitely agree that technology has connected us all and bridged generations. While your grandparents are in India, mine are in Florida. I know it’s not quite as far away, but for them, it’s far enough. Similar to how you guys had to cater your lessons to what their generation was used to, I have had my share of challenging but also rewarding experiences. For Jordan, it was FaceTime and Zoom; for me, it was Gmail.
My grandpa called me one day because his friend had sent out a party invite as a list. Grandpa spent about forty minutes trying to find it. I told him to look carefully and like Santa, check his list twice. He didn’t think that was funny. I realized that his friend’s email probably went to his Spambox. I told him to look to the left to find Spambox and click on it. He replied “My Gmail must be different from yours; I don’t have a Spambox folder.” After a few minutes of trying to describe it to him, I FaceTimed him. I looked on his screen and realized that he needed to scroll down in order to find Spambox.
For me, I had always automatically scrolled down to find it without even realizing that I did this. To me, every action or click is like a knee-jerk reflex, but I realized that for grandpa, his reflexes needed a bit more time to kick in. Jordan is absolutely right in that the elderly need more hands-on and visual support. Remember, they grew up with things that required more physical interaction like holding a thick hardcovered book or applying their index finger on a rotary phone. Even my mom tells me she used to love watching each digit of the rotary phone make its way back!
Anyways, thank goodness for FaceTime. I showed grandpa how to scroll down to find his Spambox. And sure enough, the mysterious party invite miraculously appeared. I thought about teaching Grandpa how to move that conversation to his Inbox, but he was so elated that I decided to save this lesson for another day.
I found this article very relatable as I have as well tried to teach my grandparents how to use a mobile phone. At the end I was only able to teach my grandmother how to play candy crush and how to select who she wanted to call without needing to type the number every time. But nothing more. She kept refusing to learn the “new and unnecessary technologies”.
What he is doing very important, specially during the coronavirus epidemic. I have found the elderly are the ones who suffer the most isolation, as they are the ones that are less connected. It reminds me of a video what was viral in social media about a grandmother who sang happy birthday to herself, alone, in her house. It broke my heart. This is why seemingly-small ideas like these can really make an impact and change people’s lives for the better.
Hi Alejandra! I can totally relate to your experience. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been sympathizing for the elderly in nursing homes, who are not able to interact with families. Therefore, I started Facetime sessions with the elderly, either playing piano for them or chatting with them to help time pass by for them. However, I came across some obstacles, such as having difficulties getting on the video chat. She told me that although she enjoys having a companion to talk to, it is really hard for her to work with the technology, such as logging onto the computer. I was dejected for not being able to teach her about technology usage due to the quarantine lockdown.
Furthermore, I live on the opposite side of the globe from my grandmother. The only form of communicating and interacting is through technology. However, she also has hard time using it as well, and it really is painful to think that I am not able to spend most of the time actually talking rather than being lost on using the technology to communicate, especially when I want to spend as much time with her.
As of in the near future, I would like to create a nonprofit business, putting an emphasis on sharing our knowledge of technology to those who are not efficient with it.
Seniors are often fixed in their ways and unwilling to change. They like what has been working for so many years. They have to be told that is ok to try things with their phone and not to be afraid to make a mistake. Your grandmother liked to make calls but she may like to learn how to text if she is encouraged to do so, and understand this is a popular way to communicating these days. If she tries it maybe she will like it. She may appreciate someone texting her an image or picture, something you can’t do over the phone.
This article really reflects the present situation of contemporary society.In just 20 years, from cover phones to smartphones, from 2G to 5G, from 8GB to 512GB, the change is so fast and dramatic that the elderly feel disjointed by the society.
Take my family for instance. In the 5 years ago, my grandparents don’t know how to use the smartphones. But now, they can use the app like Wechat to communicate with others. When they go out and buy stuffs, they use the apple pay instead of paying the cash. This paves the convenient for them because the elderly will be easy to lost cash or coins on the way home. You know that they will be disappointed and complaint when they know they just lost several dollars. This problem can be solved now.
The another advantage that I discovered is that seeing the doctor online. In the past, my grandfather had to get up early around 5.am and go to the hospital to make an appointment. In the morning, the temperature is very low and it is so tired for him to register. But now, they can make the appointment online through the app. This can largely save the time on the way to the hospital and queuing outside the gate. After finishing the doctor, The medicine will be mailed to the home, so that grandpa would not have to go to the hospital to get it again and again.
This class sounds great since it helped a lot of “students” to learn the advanced technology. Nowadays, many young people are busy with their work and don’ have enough time to teach their parents to use the phones. This class just solves this embarrassment. Recently, my grandparents know a lot of knowledge about the prevention of COVID-19 and buying the food online without going to the market to reduce the risk of infection.
The phones really make the life more convenient and these classes should be encouraged by the public. We should try our best to make the contribution to the society.
I agree with you, YuTao. The article really emphasizes the change that technology has brought onto the modern world and the transformational effect it can have on someone’s life. As technology evolves every day, so does mankind. And in this time and day, it’s up to the newer generation to educate the older generations about this change.
Being part of the new generation myself, I’ve had to teach many family members about technology as well, such as setting up an app, purchasing something, or helping them understand how to communicate with their friends through the use of WeChat and similar apps. A couple of years ago, we went back to China to visit our family, and at the end of the trip, because the thought of saying goodbye and not speaking to them for a long time was so painful, we decided to get them new phones and teach them how to use them so we could communicate with the touch of a button whenever we missed each other. My cousin and I had to teach our uncles, aunts, and grandparents how to set up their new phones and WeChat because technology was still foreign to them at the time. And now, they use their phones just like anyone would in this day and time, despite the large age gap between us.
At home, my mom constantly asks me questions about technology because she isn’t very technologically advanced, due to the fact that she immigrated here from China back when there was little technology available. However, now that she has one, she constantly asks me how to set things up, how to search things up, or how to manage her WeChat when she wants to call or FaceTime some of her friends. She’s also learned to use her phone to go places by using Google Maps. Using handheld maps and knowing the routes by heart is no longer needed with the advancement of technology.
Because of the elderly’s age, getting places and doing things by themselves is not as easy as it was when they were younger. They aren’t able to support themselves, and their kids may be too busy with work and their own lives to be around them every hour of the day. With their newfound technology, they can call for assistance by simply pressing a button that will notify help, or call someone in case of an emergency. Technology could very well save someone’s life.
Moreover, I feel like the class that Jordan has decided to teach could end up helping everyone, not just his students. His teaching the classes means that the elderly’s kids don’t need to teach them themselves, and instead can focus on working and supporting their family as a whole. They can rest assured knowing that their parents are safe and that they know what to do in case of an emergency. In addition, they could also learn to download some games for their own entertainment.
It’s important to acknowledge Jordan for everything he’s done and to appreciate him for giving us this opportunity to experience something new that can help many. This example shows just how much technology has evolved over these years.
Thank you for your kind words. More people are no longer using money, so it would be helpful for seniors to use their phone to pay for things, maybe with credit card or Apple Pay. It is very helpful for seniors to be able to use electronics for medical purposes, like emailing with a doctor. I also teach in my class about a healthcare app where seniors can keep all of their medical information.
Experience is key in entrepreneurship. One of the few ways we have to better ourselves as entrepreneurs, and our businesses as life experiences, is going through an initial process of practice and learning, often a synonym for failure. Bonnie’s role in the case of this fantastic entrepreneurial story is exactly this one: giving Jordan a starting point, from which acknowledging the actions necessary to improve the quality of the business.
As often stated throughout the article, connecting people has never had such an importance in the terrible crisis we are facing due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Older people are being left behind, not only technologically, but unfortunately socially too: missing tools, such as the previously discussed iPhones and laptops, and absent experience, make it much more difficult for grandmas and grandpas to go beyond the standard, old-fashioned phone call, in a world, in a time, where the closer we can get to having real-life meeting with our loved ones is joining a Zoom call.
I personally find this a wonderful example of how we, as youngsters, can personally engage in making these terrible times lighter and less burdensome: each small action can make a difference, regardless of the size of our targeted audience, and our duty as world-citizen, I think, has never had such an important role in our everyday life.
I’ve been very fortunate to have this entrepreneurial experience at this early age, and I hope to continue through my high school years so that I will be able to expand this program and scale it so it helps so many more people.
Similar to your experiences, I am also a sophomore and also volunteer to aid senior individuals in adapting to new technology! As a branch director in an organization called Teach Seniors Technology, I could not relate more on the initial difficulties in gaining customers. A few years ago, when I walked into my local community center to give my first lesson, there were only one or two students. In fact, there were many times during my first couple of months volunteering where no students had signed up for my weekly lessons! Though I wasn’t necessarily successful at first, I was also forced to adapt for these reasons. After reaching out to the community center staff, I was able to secure a classroom and promotion materials for my service which now serves several seniors each week.
Yet, I believe the “success” of my organization is determined by much more than the number of seniors who I teach. I often serve seniors from China, who have to bridge both the language barrier and the technological gap here in the United States. One of the ladies at my branch literally burst into joy when I taught her how to use Google Translate! In a world which is becoming increasingly interconnected and reliant on technology, I find that “success” of my volunteering branch rests on reintegrating these seniors into the technological area of society. I am overjoyed by the fact that there are other who share so much similarity with me. As more and more technological advancements are made, we must learn to bridge generational gaps so that our society as a whole can progress together with the technology that is being invented.
It is wonderful to hear of another sophomore participating in a similar type of program.
Just like you, I help senior citizens but also adults from Central and South America with the technology and language barrier that thousands of people face in the United States. Technology is not common for lower classes in third world countries which makes it difficult for these adults and senior citizens to understand what seems like the basics of a smartphone for the majority of people in the US. It is such a joy when I see those which I help finally being able to communicate through Google Translate (An incredible tool I must say) and doing tasks like buying on Amazon, Instacart, or any online store. Observing this has made me come to the conclusion that we must come together as the new technology generation and help all of those individuals who have not gotten the opportunity to learn the incredible benefits the tech world brings; together we can close the digital divide across all ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses. We are the future and have yet to see great things created through technology.
Great response, Rossana! Do I see a team of digital-divide change makers forming here?
Technology helps join people, specially for the duration of this time of infinite quarantines. It is recommended that the older era is taking an hobby in technology, breaking the stereotype that the elderly reject new ideas. After all, technological know-how was once and is made to make humans’ lives easier. However, whilst analyzing each your comments, Vishnu and Charlie, alongside with the article, I see that in all the instances of older humans the use of technology, it is due to the fact the aged era have no different approaches to remain connected. Now, this sparked a curious thinking internal me—the aged are the use of tech due to the fact particularly at some stage in this time period, they genuinely want it to forestall themselves from turning into isolated. But when it comes to younger people, we simply use tech due to the fact we are so addicted to it. We attain for a smartphone due to the fact it’s simply what teenagers do. We text, FaceTime, and play multiplayer video games with every different simultaneously. For the elderly, the hazard to be in a position to join with their cherished ones is a massive spotlight in their life. They have no longer skilled such ease and luxurious for a great deal of their lives.
Despite efforts to teach the older generation about the newest developments in technology, it is saddening how much of the older generation is still very ignorant about it, especially since it is an era of technology.
One summer, I went to China to see my relatives, especially my grandmother. My grandmother lived in more rural parts of Sichuan, in Dazu. She didn’t need to use any technology; as long as she knew how to open the television and call using her corded home telephone, she could live happily growing plants in the back yard and raising chickens. She rarely went into the city to where my other relatives lived, they always visited her instead. However, to my delightful surprise, she proactively volunteered to wait for my arrival in Chongqing, one of the busiest cities in Sichuan.
When I arrived at my aunt’s apartment, where my grandma stayed, I asked jokingly why she decided to finally come to the city, she replied that it was because she hadn’t been here for so long. It was boring back home, and my grandma wanted to experience what life is like in the city for a while. She said that she would stay in the city until I left for America in a few weeks.
I was delighted and planned to take her to all sorts of fun places with great food that I had remembered from my last visit here. In Dazu, you could hardly find such boisterousness due to the lack of crowds. I was sure that she would enjoy it.
One morning, after I had officially settled in at my aunt’s house, my aunt and her husband told me that they were going to go somewhere for the rest of the day and needed me to take care of my grandmother. They said I could take my grandmother out to walk or do some other activities, but to be careful. I agreed with a smile.
My grandma was very happy this particular morning as well. She told me that she wanted to try exercising in the nearby park with some other old people; she wanted to make some friends here. I happily agreed. I walked her to the park and watched her dance and make merry with the folks there. After a few minutes, she could tell that I was a little restless and told me to play on my own and insisted that she could manage herself well. She said that she would go home when she wanted to and told me not to worry. I reluctantly agreed, told her the directions to the apartment building, and gave her the corresponding card. The apartment wasn’t that far, only one block away from the park. Then, I went off to a nearby stationary store to buy some souvenirs for my friends in America.
After some time, I picked the gifts that caught my fancy and went on the line to pay. The store was very popular and so the line was very long as well. After waiting for a quarter of an hour, I finally got out of the line and started my way home. In the distance, I saw a familiar figure. I panicked and hurriedly ran to the entrance of the apartment.
My grandma stood in the burning sun, her arms hung down at her sides, watching the pedestrians. Apparently, she had a squabble with the people from the park almost immediately after I left. She wasn’t in the mood to dance anymore, so she went home. However, the problem is that she didn’t know how to open the more technologically advanced apartment door. To me, the door system was very simple, you just had to swipe a card, but my grandmother never had to use this sort of system, she only ever needed a key. My grandma thought that you just had to press the card against the door or something. She also forgot how to call using the smartphone that was given to her. I also didn’t think it was necessary enough to teach my grandmother how to open the door since it seemed natural to me.
This story truly shows the importance of communication and the need to help the older generation with technology.
“When are you coming back?” These words were music to my 15-year-old ears. I had just helped fix the internet connectivity issue for Ms. Jacobson, one of the residents at Sequoias’, a senior residential facility, where I was volunteering to help seniors with their tech issues in the summer after my freshman year. Ms. Jacobson sent a very nice thank you note about the help she received from me to the Services Director at Sequoias who passed it on to me. The note, painstakingly written in spidery cursive must have taken Ms. Jacobson some time to write and is still cherished by me. The experience with helping seniors with their tech issues and entertaining them with piano recitals helped me get more attuned to the needs of my own grandparents. My two sets of grandparents are separated by a decade and come from similar backgrounds but have very different life experiences. One set of grandparents who live with us are older, technologically challenged, and can call on us anytime to help them operate the phone, the TV and other gadgets. They prefer to read the actual newspaper despite efforts to get them to read news online, and prefer talking on the phone instead of using Facetime. The younger set of grandparents who live in India have a large social circle, live on their own, and while still technologically challenged, have learned the basics of how to use a smartphone, browse the internet, and order online. Jordan’s article made me reflect on my experience working with seniors, both in my own family and outside and I realized that seniors face the same challenges that students of all ages face. First of all, every student learns in their own unique way, much like some of Jordan’s students – Roz and Rabbi Haskel. Some are visual learners, some need more time to read and absorb information on their own, etc. Secondly, each student has different capabilities and interests. Some like one set of my grandparents did not have much interest in learning how to use technology as they were happy with the old ways and could always ask us for help if they needed it. The other set of grandparents found ways to learn the basics that they needed to fulfill their needs as they were living on their own. There is also a social and cultural context to this. More and more seniors are now forced to live on their own, either in their homes or in senior facilities. Those that do not live with family face loneliness among other issues, and do need to know some basics such as texting, online searching and ordering, connecting with their medical provider online, etc. to stay safe, independent, and connected. The need to stay connected has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the issue with being connected is that not only are seniors more vulnerable to scams, they are also very gullible when it comes to fake news. I have had to constantly remind my grandparents who treat WhatsApp and Facebook as reliable news sources that everything they read there is not always true. The other issue is the plethora of apps, tools, and websites that can be overwhelming for seniors. I noticed this issue after working with a couple of seniors at Sequoias and created a home page for every senior I worked with, that contained shortcuts/icons for their most frequently used apps and websites for easy access. Perhaps in all of this, there is an opportunity to create senior-friendly apps and devices, but unfortunately, this is not a coveted demographic for tech companies and marketers. There is certainly a need to help seniors learn tech basics which can enrich and simplify their life. I applaud Jordan’s efforts to provide this valuable service to seniors in his community. However, the bigger question I ponder is that why are seniors put into this position in the first place where instead of enjoying time with their families, they are forced to learn new skills, especially when many have impacted cognitive skills which makes learning new things harder. Additionally, we are only talking about a subset of the senior population. There is a big population of seniors living in poverty who have more pressing issues such as survival to deal with. My own experience with my grandparents and with seniors I worked with is that every single one of them would have preferred to live with their families, surrounded by their children and grandchildren instead of connecting with them over facetime and group chats. In fact, the percentage of multigenerational families in the United States has continued to rise, primarily due to financial necessity. While one size does not fit all and every family has their own unique challenges, perhaps it’s time for us as a society to take a closer look at how best to support the needs of our senior population, given the increased life expectancy in the United States.
Hey, Jatin. I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful post and response. What I love most is that you bring up some broader issues that really add value to the “seniors and technology” conversation. I’ve always admired certain cultures — India for one — where families place more emphasis on caring for and living with their elders, the people without whom they would not even exist. The questions you raise about supporting our senior population are so important! We deliver them meals, help them connect, even give them a ride to the market, but we don’t go beyond to the point of human companionship and connection at a time when they need it most.
The age of smartphones has progressed so quickly that the fact the first iPhone originated just over ten years ago may come as a surprise to many. This development is only one example of a world industrializing at an unprecedented rate. Despite making communication and practically every other aspect of life easier, this revolution may not apply to all — the elderly, as you stated, are often not kept up to date to these new technologies. However, it must be noted that other adults may also not be kept up to date.
I believe my parents are a prime example of this. They both immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and made a decent living running a restaurant. However, when it came time to digitalize, they struggled and required my older sister’s assistance to facilitate this new aspect of the business. Now that she’s off to college, it’s my turn to fulfill this position of filling out online documents and forms. This is a growing problem as it is a given that technology will only advance forward, regardless of whether there are those who are unable to utilize these new advantages. That is why I find programs like yours to be so fascinating and thoughtful. My mother has recently taken up taking computer classes, where she learns basic computer navigation skills. It is essential for the whole population to collectively adapt as a whole.
I appreciate the idea of showing seniors how to fill out forms online, and all of the elements involved in that process.
I certainly agree with Jordan that technology helps us stay connected. It is very important that we help the elderly members of the society on the use of technology.
It is not easy to teach the older generation to use technology, as they are not quite familiar with it.
Moreover, I have also had a similar experience with my grandmother who just got a new iPhone and she did not know how to use it properly. Though she was able to make her daily phone calls and read her WhatsApp messages, she did not know how to access the Internet, do Face time and little other stuff. One day during the never-ending lockdown, I decided to teach my grandmother how to use her new phone. Since, she was having sleepless nights due to the change in her sleep cycle because of lockdown, I first taught her how to use YouTube so that she could put spiritual music on it and have good sleep. As days progressed I taught her how to access the daily news online, face timing, texting and many more things. This also gave me an opportunity to spend quality time with my grandmother, which I could not during my school days. My grandmother had a habit of doing all her office-work on paper so, later I started teaching her to use the laptop to check few mails and tally her accounts. This whole process not only helped her a great deal by making her work a lot easier, but also it helped me become more patient by answering the same quarries that she had again and again.
There have been vast advancements in technology over the years and it has helped us in many ways, such as online classes and courses, which are the most helpful things at the moment. By helping the elderly members of the society as to how technology can be used, bridges the generation gap and will help the society progress faster.
I’ve spent a lot of time helping relatives with technology and sometimes it can get very frustrating but I remember that they didn’t grow up with this like we did. So I am more patient and don’t get mad because I love my relatives. What Jordan is doing is really important, especially during this pandemic. The elderly are the most impacted in my opinion, because many of them lack technological experience. His Zoom meetings are a great idea though, keeping the elderly learning and up to date with technology so they can stay connected.
The younger generation is lucky. Since we were young, we have had access to electronic products. Elders often see their grandchildren typing like a speed of light with two thumbs on the keyboard or on the phone, while they themselves can only type letter by letter or word by word with their index fingers. Many elders have only had access to technologies in the past 15 to 20 years. We sometimes get annoyed when they want to learn how to use technology. But when thinking about our situations, aren’t we like them when we are trying to figure out how to solve a simple math question? We see the technologies are easy for us to learn and use, but the elders must take a long time to get used to using technologies.
The last time I saw my grandmother in person was five years ago, but we are able to FaceTime each other at least once a week. When I visited her in China five years ago, I saw her struggling to send a message on WeChat or even make a simple phone call. She would forget which group chat is which and would constantly send private messages in group chats with other family members in it. When I started teaching her how to use WeChat, I saw my grandma was listening to what I was saying very carefully. I taught her how to use WeChat for video calls, voice calls, and many other functions of the app. Later, she took her cellphone and just pressed on it casually trying to use the phone herself. This makes me think that the elders are still very curious to learn new things and look forward to more connections with others so as not to be disconnected from society.
Although she still struggles with using keyboards, my grandma has greatly increased her ability to use her phone. Now she is able to shop online and play simple games on her phone like mahjong and Candy Crush. She sends us many photos of places she has visited and writes that she wishes to take me on one of her trips. Communication is a bridge to build interpersonal relationships. From sharing feelings to expressing ideas, the world requires us to communicate with others. Not just through face-to-face communication, but also through technologies, we are able to share our feelings with others through a simple call or message. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we find communication important with family members or friends or co-workers through technologies. We have stayed home for more than one and a half months, and we would need to communicate with our parents almost every day and stay with them 24/7 face-to-face. We might not know how to have a conversation with them before, but with this pandemic, we might have no choice but to speak with them. We have learned that communicating with them is not as hard as we thought, and moreover, it is enjoyable to hear stories from our parents or other elders in the family. The elders are aging every day and we are growing up every day. It is hard for us to frequently see each other in real life, so technology is how we would connect and communicate with them.