“What intimidates you about young people?” It was the question I posed informally to a group of older adult friends when I visited their senior care center a few weeks ago. Just for the record, they ranged in age from 76 to 97.
Interestingly, their responses had a similar strain. They talked about being intimidated by the speed in which young people live their lives. “They are always doing so many things at once, rushing around,” said one grandmother who grinned as she added, “except when it’s time to get up in the morning.”
Around this table of older adults, there was laughter, but I knew the question had serious implications, too. The pace of most elderly persons is slow or slower, with good reason. Joints hurt, balance is wobbly, energy is limited. It’s not surprising that they feel they’ve been left in the dust by their younger, more energetic counterparts.
As the conversation continued, it became apparent that the older adults were actually intimidated by younger folks’ fearless and fast use of technology. As one woman said, “Every time I see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they are constantly using their cell phones and Blackberries. They are talking about Facebook and Twitter, as if I know what they are talking about. They can’t sit still and have a conversation because they are talking to people who aren’t even in the room. It’s all about now. They don’t like to wait.”
I could empathize. I’m no technology moron, but my worst nightmare is having to use to right lingo to talk to a computer troubleshooter. So many terms, so little understanding.
Recently, my thoughtful daughter-in-law even created a personalized instruction sheet for me, detailing how to operate their TV/DVD/satellite network/sound system when I am babysitting my 9-month old grandson. With a series of remotes and a bajillion buttons and unfamiliar symbols, I confess that middle-aged folks can also be intimidated by the ease which younger folks take to technology.
But underlying the older adults’ statements about speed and technology, I believe there was a deeper intimidation. As this group of older adults opened up, they shared unsettled feelings about being mocked for their lack of know-how or for being slow. Some feared that younger folks were bored or uninterested in their long lives.
And so, in today’s world where information is instant and technology is rapid-fire, I wonder how we can be more understanding of those things that intimidate older adults.
Personally, I marvel at young people who are smart and savvy. In fact, I get a huge kick out of having my grown kids teach me new things. It was my son who first introduced me to Twitter. My daughter set up my blog site. I think God was especially brilliant when he designed the aging process so that we can learn from each other. In all stages of life. Young to old, old to young. With patience. Kindness. Respect.