I am not sure what it says about our society when websites such as Facebook and Youtube have become the defining tools to bridge the generational gap. Though these “virtual houses” are bringing families together, there is an element of tradition and learning that is slowly being eradicated. I could not help but reflect on this while watching the lively group of octogenarians attempt to master modern technology in Saffron Cassaday’s delightful documentary Cyber-Seniors.
The film focuses on the “Cyber-Seniors” program that was conceived by Cassaday’s two sisters, Macaulee and Kascha, while they were in high school. The premise of the program is to get a group of tech savvy teenagers to go around to local retirement communities and teach the residents how to become more computer literate. This includes learning everything from operating the physical hardware to accessing email to managing social media.
It is rather fascinating to see the frustration, growth, and joy that come with the seniors’ technological education. The way they interact with social media offers an interesting commentary on modern society. Many use it to reconnect with their children and grandchildren who no longer come to visit. One 77 year-old woman, Annette, explores the highs and lows of setting up an online dating profile. She openly questions fellow seniors who clearly look older than their dating profile’s suggests. While some, like 88 year-old firecracker Shura, embrace the entertainment that sites such as Youtube provide by making their own online video.
Though a good portion of the film focuses on the Youtube competition, sparked by Shura’s cooking video, that many of the seniors participate in, it is the pathos that makes Cyber-Seniors resonate. Cassaday’s film really hits its stride when it touches on both the seniors’ past and the health issues within the director’s own family. It is in these moments that we really see the human side of the individuals in the film. Cassaday reminds us that despite living a life where the telephone and television are considered the height of technology, these are still people who have led interesting lives and have a wealth of information and experiences to share.
If there is one minor gripe to be had with the film, it is that Cassaday could have explored the themes of sharing knowledge and history more. Despite seeing the enjoyment that comes with the sense of discovery, it would have been nice to see the seniors use the new mediums to share their past experiences with a whole new generation. Furthermore, there is very little on what the teenage mentors learned from their time spent with their elderly students. If anything, it often feels like the elderly are forced to learn about youth culture, but not the other way around.
The sad thing is that this is probably indicative of our society in general. If the seniors are not on Facebook or Skype, the chances are high that they will go years without being contacted by their loved ones. Which is shocking considering that everyone walks around with cellphones, but few actually make calls. Regardless, Cyber-Seniors does a good job of showing that it is never too late to learn something new. Even in a world where connections and emotions are all expressed in virtual houses, the key to unlocking the front door can be discovered at any age. Technology is no longer for the young, but rather the young at heart. Charming films like Cyber-Seniors remind us that even the elderly can find new life and purpose through computer literacy.