A good proportion of us, I suspect, have been involved either willingly or reluctantly in educating our older generation about technology, specifically the social media aspects of it. At some point, we might have had to play tech tutor to our old folks – mothers, fathers, in laws, relatives and those of a certain age – playing catch up with many wonders of modern technology.
There are, of course, lots of tech savvy old people out there but the rapid democratization of technology in the last decade has necessitated and, in some ways, even compelled the remainder of this otherwise blissfully indifferent demographic to take their first steps in the virtual world. It doesn’t stop a lot of them from feeling like they could do without the hassle of learning something new and others from being deeply distrustful of technology, but as half our population seems to either be in Australia or on their way there (only kidding), learning to navigate the waters of social media has become a necessity for our senior citizens.
It seems like our elderly and social media are made for each other because once they get past the ‘Oh, what’s the point of learning at our age’ theatrics (and there usually are a few), apparently, there’s no stopping them. Every family has its share of relatives who have taken to social media like a duck to water and seem to be everywhere dishing out likes, comments, shares and posts galore. One of their first acts, inevitably, is to round off all the people they know and fire off ‘friend’ requests.
While it is adorable (initially at least) and no doubt well intentioned, it presents a quandary for us younger lot. All of us might not lead lives of the Jekyll and Hyde variety, but living in a relatively conservative society where even routine acts of ‘fun’ can be blown out of proportion, it presents a dilemma of Hamletian proportions – ‘to accept or not to accept’.
For many of us breaking down our virtual walls to let in our family might leave us with a lot of explaining to do which, frankly, is better avoided. A lot of us would prefer not to be ‘friends’ with our dads, mums, uncles or aunts not because we practice some weird form of ageism but simply for reasons of privacy. There are many things that we would prefer to not have our folks know. I know of many people who take drastic maneuvers to avoid ‘friend requests’, ‘hide’ themselves from searches and even go so far as to open new accounts complete with sanitized posts, pictures and what have you.
This embrace of technology from the enthusiastic brigade aside, social media is a minefield that needs to be negotiated carefully. Step in the teachers, aka the young (and relatively young) amongst us. In a role reversal, it is up to us young and wise folks to initiate our elderly and inexperienced on the do’s and don’ts of social media. In addition to the standard safety instructions asking them not to ‘leave your phone lying around anywhere’, ‘not to share your password with anyone’ etc., there are certain rules of thumb that, if followed, would be useful for our elderly when navigating the virtual world.
Rule No 1 – Don’t believe (and subsequently share) everything you read on social media. There are lots of senior citizens out there reading unsubstantiated rubbish and getting all indignant and angry over nothing. This rule specially applies to the sort of medical advice that abounds on social media – you know the ones that claim that such and such herbs can cure cancer or diabetes. They don’t, no matter what self-proclaimed ‘ayurveds’ tell you, because if they did, we would have heard about it by now.
Rule No 2 – Don’t accept requests or add anyone you don’t know because it’s kind of like real life where you wouldn’t speak to random strangers – although this may not be strictly true in Nepal because I’ve seen my mum not only strike up conversations with random strangers but, through various degrees of separation, also establish that they are indeed related to one another. There is no shortage of loons on the internet and virtual friendliness is best avoided.
Rule No 3 – Please be careful of what you like or share. The world might be virtual, but the embarrassment is all too real and there are many of us who can attest to that from experience.
In the process of all this tutoring and learning every family has its share of both hilarity and frustrations. As tutors, it takes a lot of patience and understanding and as students, I suppose, even more. There are many of us who think we will always be abreast of the latest technology and never ever lag behind because we grew up in the digital age. But with ever changing technology and means of communication we might one day find ourselves in that same position being taught the ropes by a new tech savvy generation. As our parents and relatives were so fond of reminding us – ‘the learning should never stop’. Indeed, it shouldn’t.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org