As much as I hate to say this, let’s face it, we live in an ageist society. Many people look at any elderly person and think that they no longer work, and that they most definitely do not know how to use a computer, let alone develop an online business. We jump to that conclusion because, more often than not, it’s true, seniors usually struggle with our everyday technologies only because they weren’t born alongside them and they never had the chance to be taught how to use them. But now, Senior Planet is here to prove us all wrong.
So what is Senior Planet exactly? The New York-based tech-themed community centre launched by the nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) in 2013 helps seniors adapt to a world where new technologies seem to ostracise them. How? By teaching them all the tech skills we naturally possess—how to send an email, create an Instagram account, a Facebook page, how to use Google, and other tech-related basics.
For some of the regulars at Senior Planet, there’s even more to learn as they want to use technology to work and make a living. Senior Planet has classes for entrepreneurs where they can further their tech education by learning how to use Microsoft Word, Google Suite, and Photoshop. They look at how to process payments on PayPal, and even how to build a website, something that many millennials can’t do.
And still, for some reason, we live in an ageist era where it is seemingly acceptable for people like Mark Zuckerberg to declare that “young people are just smarter”. It is apparently also fine for companies to discriminate against older people that send them job applications. It comes as no surprise, then, that Senior Planet is such a success. Seniors are of course not ‘less clever’ than millennials and generation Z, and they’re ready to prove it by becoming entrepreneurs and managing their own businesses.
More older people than ever are working. In the U.S., 20 percent of those over 65 are currently employed. Because of medical progress and emerging new technologies, the near future assures we will live longer, meaning that we will also have to work for many more years while our pensions slowly diminish. Just recently in the U.K., Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith proposed to raise the state pension age to 75, presuming we will be better served by working more and for longer. If we truly want to adapt to this new longevity then we will also have to change career once or more as well as stay updated with technologies.
To any of you who are still sceptical about 60 plus year-olds developing online businesses, don’t think they’re only collecting and selling antiques on eBay with the help of their grandchildren (or whatever cliché you might be entertaining). Madelyn Rich is an entrepreneur who started making her accessories as a side business in her 50s. After retiring, she decided to keep working on her hand-crafted accessories business and enjoy the benefit of that additional income by travelling the world and going on cruises to find more materials for her company.
Former leading marketing executive and fashion journalist Rachel Roth is another inspiring Senior Planet ‘student’. In 2012, Roth created her own business, OperaNuts, where she sells “sweet and savoury chocolate-covered almonds, in a secret sea salt sauce”. Talking to Screen Shot about her experience at Senior Planet, Rachel explained, “I needed tech help to operate in today’s world, and I got it from them. I ordered my first labels (from VistaPrint) with help from Senior Planet staff. The Senior Planet Bazaar was the first event where I actually sold my product.” Rachel had the idea, she just needed a little help, and who doesn’t? As she said, “I knew that in order to move ahead, I needed to learn a new language.”
Many other Senior Planet students could be mentioned for their creative business ideas, their Instagram and Facebook pages, and other websites. My point is, not only is this centre a groundbreaking concept, but it also seems to be working. OATS has opened centres in upstate New York, California, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, and even Israel, with talk of others opening in Spain and Japan. Senior Planet also helps seniors making contacts in their industry. Rachel told Screen Shot about the American author Kerry Hannon, whose writings focus on careers, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. Her new book, Never Too Old To Get Rich, has a chapter titled ‘Rachel Roth, Nutty for Opera’.
By empowering older generations, Senior Planet gives its students the chance of pursuing a second career. As for us, the younger generation, we should look up to this kind of enthusiasm and hard-working mentality, instead of looking down on elderlies only because we’re fearful of our own ageing. Who knows, maybe we’ll be the ones struggling to adapt to new technologies in 40 years time. And I can say that I’ll happily become a Senior Planet student at that point, because retirement probably won’t be for me and I won’t let technology run me over. Will you?
You’ve surely heard of career coaching, life coaching, and relationship coaching. ‘Screen-free’ parenting coaching is a new addition to the category, with parents and schools in the U.S. employing experts to help them get their children away from screens. The fact that we’ve come to this clearly shows how bad our addiction to social media, and smartphones in general, has become. But it also raises an issue around how we are bringing up future generations, and how much access we give them to the many technologies we ourselves use daily.
We’ve all seen it, that glazed look kids get in their eyes when they’re staring at a screen at a restaurant, on the bus, anywhere, really, as long as they keep quiet. Not to say that parents are only using this as the new dummy, but, sometimes, it seems to be the easiest trick to calm young kids down. This fairly common phenomenon brought about the necessity for ‘screen consultants’. What are they here for? To remind parents what it was like to raise kids before the digital era. In the U.S., screen consultants are being invited to schools, places of religious significance, and homes in order to replace electronics with good old outdoor activities.
The first thing that bothers me about this new trend is how hypocritical it is coming from adults. We are hiring professionals to help raise our kids in a technology-free environment because we can’t set a good example ourselves. We’re so addicted to those devices that we actually have to be taught again, by professionals, what it’s like to maintain a healthy environment for our children outside of the virtual realm—where kids are free from the influence of Instagram, YouTube or Facebook. Although I would definitely put myself in the same category as those parents needing help, the simple realisation that I may require the same coaching if I ever have kids makes me very concerned about my future (and about my non-existent children’s future).
To get a better understanding of what ‘good’ screen coaching could bring to our messed up society, and to try to alleviate my concerns, I spoke to Gloria DeGaetano, who launched the Parent Coaching Institute and currently specialises in ‘curing’ screen addiction in families. She defines her job as a parent coach as “a highly trained, non-judgmental, caring professional”. Just like an accelerated uni course, parent coaches ‘train’ parents on a 3 month period through a series of 10 to 12 coaching conversations. By giving families specific and personalised tips for each unique situation, parent coaches offer more than your typical Parenting for Dummies.
So what’s the biggest challenge for parent coaches at the moment? Setting boundaries around screen time. Gloria DeGaetano has been helping parents with screen issues since the early 90s and wrote several books on the subject, but she told Screen Shot that “today we have an urgent crisis to effectively help families in this tech tsunami which is drowning both parents’ and kids’ personal agency and ability to use tech wisely”.
For obvious reasons, the more technologies we got in recent years, the worse our addiction to screens and social media became. Should we worry about it? DeGaetano believes so, stating that, “Children and teens’ habituated to screens miss out on other parts of living essential to their optimal development”. Thinking about the future and what new technologies could add to that problem, she commented, “In 15 years, screens may be obsolete because microchips, holograms, and other forms of AI not yet discovered may dominate the landscape. Who will be the innovative thinkers in that future?” and what exactly will we be addicted to then?
In the digital age, parents now have another weight to carry, one that their own parents never had to deal with. Screen consultants, as weird as their job title may sound, are a solution to kids’ worrying addiction to screens. But adults should also be taken into consideration in this matter. Who’s going to teach us how to cut down on our social media addiction and ‘care’ less about our online image? I don’t have the answer just yet, but until then, I asked Gloria for one last piece of advice, “Be You! With an unwavering belief in yourself, social media comparison can’t affect a healthy sense of identity. Nature is abundant in diversity for a reason—differences make sure life continues”. There you go: be you, be different.