Our Elders Make Us Experts
Teaching Technology to Baby Boomers falls on the shoulders of Millennials
My job switched to Cascade. No, not the cleaning products. If you’ve never heard of it – until about a month ago I hadn’t – that’s because Cascade exists in a market saturated by names like WordPress and Squarespace.
Cascade is a content management system (CMS). A D.I.Y. webpage factory that streamlines the process of publishing things to the internet. The advent of Web 2.0 spurred user-generated content and subsequently, the means to create and manage it. The mass adoption of CMS came at the turn of the century. My employer, a community college on the Eastern seaboard, only jumped on the CMS bandwagon in 2020.
I’ll spare you the gnarly details of how much web work I do. (I’m one of three people responsible for all the written and photographic content at my approximately 10,000 student institution.) Generally, I write and publish about three pieces a week, ranging from sports stories to alumni features to reminders to donate at this week’s blood drive.
If for some reason you’ve never used a CMS I’ll first ask where to find the moss-covered rock you’re living under, and proceed to encourage that even you could pick up the necessary skill set. Crafting webpages is akin to playing with a toddler’s block puzzle. Every piece has an explicit home and you’ll know exactly when you’ve solved it.
Before Cascade, the college was operating through Dreamweaver, an app incorporated into Adobe’s suite of tools after it purchased Macromedia in 2005. Where programs like PhotoShop, InDesign and Illustrator are constantly updated to stay on the cutting edge of usability, Dreamweaver, at least at my job, was a glorified text editor. Publishing to our website was a slog of tweaking lines of HTML until each page resembled its predecessors. Dreamweaver was functional at best, frustrating at worse, and a constant reminder of 21st century innovations to which I didn’t have access.
Implementing Cascade for my department’s publishing needs has been a dream. It has singlehandedly upped my output. Publishing a written article can be finished as quickly as five minutes after I sign in. For the Public Relations and Marketing professional (yes those are two different things and yes, I do both. My job is cheap like that. <3), a content management system is indispensable.
At least it is for the millennial.
My frustrations with writing webpages by hand in Dreamweaver have been reintroduced via my coworkers. A pair of Baby Boomers, my officemates have passed on learning new tech. They’ve settled on antiquated processes. They still search from Google’s home page.
I can’t blame them. John and Jane (not their real names) were well into their careers in the 1980s. they weren’t faced with the ever-changing landscape of electronic interfaces. Outside of trading in typewriters for desktops, their technological lives have largely been static.
Despite their disdain, older adults aren’t necessarily hapless tech haters. A 2017 study found that sexagenarians and their contemporaries find barriers preventing them from adopting tech they would otherwise use.
In Eleftheria Vaportzis, Maria Giatsi Clausen and Alan J Gow’s research, conversations with focus groups comprised of individual’s aged 65 to 76 years old found that participants had a willingness to learn new technologies.
“I think we're missing out on a lot, because all the information is at hand and we don't know how to collect that information,” said one anonymous participant.
That’s right, even baby boomers experience FOMO.
The surveyed group added that the “positive features of tablets” (screen clarity, touch-based operation) and ease of “accessing information” were among the benefits of embracing new technologies.
Still, the difficulties of adapting the tech – particularly feelings of inadequacy created by limited knowledge of tablets led the groups to struggle with welcoming regular use of newer technology.
“My brain is just not built to deal with half of the technology out there,” one participant said. “I wish I was more [like my kids], I really do, because I am aware of the being left behind, I suppose.”
People are working longer than ever. Thus, workplaces need to respond to different learning styles.
As often as my coworkers take to complaining about the CMS, you would think the college would offer a training program to prepare employees for the shift to a new system.
Such a program might be for the best. While Millennials have been largely self-instructed in their exposure to technology, older generations, specifically Baby Boomers, thrive in more structured learning settings.
Susan A. Johnson and Mary L. Romanello explained that Boomers, in response to a post-War America, found themselves fighting conventions about their parents’ lifestyles. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and Civil Rights were all on the menu. Subsequently, Boomers have an incredible work ethic, best harnessed through guided learning that affects change once they reach the workplace.
Of course, the growth of technology does not play well with structured learning. New technology is introduced faster than lectures can be designed. In 2016, the City of Glasgow College offered a “How to be a Youtuber/Vlogger” adult education course. Four years later TikTok is all the rage, with millions of people latching on the newest app.
Colleges, already forced to adapt to learning in the digital space, can’t afford to whip up new courses with each new technological fancy. Declining enrollment – due to a bevy of loci not limited to funding, transparency and successful prioritization – means the proliferation of knowledge about new technologies will come from beyond the Ivory Tower.
As a result, older users are at a loss for where to get information about the tech they have to use. In the absence of traditional learning environments, they need to use tech to learn tech.
Enter Millennials, who have become the de facto tutors of elderly tech users. The need for hands on tutors is so great that midway through the 2010s three entrepreneurs and their organization The Gadget Guides found a way to profit off of teaching seniors how to navigate the digital world.
It might seem a bit skeevy at first – getting Meemaw to pony up to show her how to FaceTime her grandkids shades towards exploitative – but it’s a legitimate business model.
While webinars and video education courses are solid efforts to appease a host of learning styles, it doesn’t change the fact that in shared workspaces, Millennials become tech gurus. We are responsible for our elders’ digital well-being, paying them back in full for years of changing our diapers and taking us to the park.