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Age-Based Rhetoric Adds Unnecessary Barriers
March 28, 2012 - 9:05pm

My Grandma Katie used to send out weekly postcards to my family. She would type them on her typewriter and tell us about her week. When dial-up internet became available, my Grandma, then in her mid-70s was able to get online via the slowest computer I have ever had the pleasure of using. She would send out regular e-mails to her grandchildren. Her connection was as slow as her computer, but she thoroughly loved being able to connect using what was at the time -- super fast, super new technology.

Sadly, my grandmother passed away a few years ago. She was e-mailing right up until she died. She was 82. Her spirit of adoption and adaption of technology has always inspired me. Some would have considered her to be “too old” to try something new. To try out a new communications technology at her age wasn’t something that her generation “did.” I remember how excited she would get when she started using a new sewing machine. Trust me, sewing machines are high-tech devices.

Whenever I am speaking at events or at schools, someone undoubtedly references age as a barrier to adoption. In my opinion, it’s bull. Age doesn’t dictate our capacity to try new things or to experiment. “Age rhetoric” serves only one purpose, it allows those who do not wish to change to have a socially accepted excuse. It also alienates those for whom age is framed as not being a reason for adoption.

I was speaking on a campus a couple of weeks ago and there were at least two students (in their twenties) who were not on Facebook and there were several 50-somethings who were tweeting up a storm on Twitter. When someone says that “their generation doesn’t do technology,” I want to remind them that their generation was undoubtedly at the epicenter of new technology. Every generation is part of something new. Communications technology seems to hold a unique place in our lives. Our mental bandwidth fills up and we stop experimenting. I’m excited that communications technology keeps evolving. Change is constant.

My grandma was brave in several ways. She challenged me to always be as brave as I could be. Grandma Katie had multiple sclerosis which slowed her down a little bit, but it never stopped her. When we use age as a barrier to trial and error, I think we do ourselves a disservice. While I’m not sure what the exact age range is for “age rhetoric,” I do think it is unfair for “younger folk” to always be framed as being "automagically" okay with trying out new forms of technology and communications tools. It’s true that my father still prints out all of his emails via “the broadband.” However, it’s also true that my mother taught me how to use a Commodore 64 and that she’s always been fearless when it comes to anything having to do with computers.

What I’ve found in my consulting adventures is that most people don’t want to be perceived as being “low tech.” Ego is involved. If possible, I try to take folks aside and get to know them. Relationships are oftentimes the key to education and elimination of tech-barriers.

Who is your Grandma Katie? Who inspires you to be brave, to experiment, and to learn about new technologies?


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