It's a big mistake to use generational stereotypes when talking about this new digital era in which we live. The subject came up this weekend in conversation with a group, and we decided that doing so really amounted to nothing more than ageism. We agreed that the two stereotypes we tend to hear the most are about "grandma and grandpa" and "kids today."
People often assume senior citizens will become easily befuddled by technology, whether it involves computers or mobile phones, and that we need to write them off as ever learning how to use either. Marketers are taking advantage of this kind of ageism, with machines designed to simply print out grandma's e-mails for her so she can read them on paper and, I assume, write you a handwritten letter in return. One can almost envision the feather quill ink pens lined up on grandma's counter next to that "newfangled contraption" that brings news of the grandkids.
On the other extreme, you have people assuming that the "digital natives," the kids growing up today with technology available to them from the time they are very young, want nothing to do with books or newspapers; they are only interested in sending text messages to their friends and carrying the latest digital gadget.
Both stereotypes are off base. Sure, stereotypes exist for a reason, but often they are perpetuated by comedians, authors, television and movie scriptwriters, and the media. It's easier to talk about a generation as a whole rather than delve into the individual nuances that appear when considering the activities of millions of people.
My conversations this weekend resulted in several great examples of people who are bucking the stereotypical trends and, I believe, are representative of so many more adults and kids being unfairly categorized.
One story involved a man in his 80s who is often found on his computer sending e-mails, sharing photos, and instant messaging with his grandchildren. No e-mail printer for him, that's for sure.
Another story was about a doctor seeing a man in his 80s who, when asked about making another appointment, pulled out his mobile phone to check his calendar. No giant-buttoned Jitterbug phone for him!
Then there's the case of the 14-year-old girl who, when asked if she was on Facebook with all her friends, became adamant that she has no desire to be there. She also led a discussion about the use of e-readers versus printed books, taking the side of folks who still prefer flipping dog-eared pages rather than pressing buttons to see the next page of text.
Of course, plenty of stories exist about parents and grandparents who really are clueless about technology, and there are just as many stories about members of Gen Y embracing digital technology and have no plans to look back. Be careful lumping anyone into a category just because of their age. You really can't judge a book by its cover, nor can you judge a reader by its generation. You never know whether the face that pops up from behind an e-reader or a printed book will belong to an 80-year-old man or a 14-year-old girl.
What other stories do you have to share about senior citizens enjoying the digital life or members of Gen Y who are trying to discover simpler times?