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Cyber-savvy Seniors - SRES

Cyber-savvy Seniors

At the start of the movie trailer for Cyber-Seniors, Shura, a woman almost 90 years old, talks about how she’s too old to learn technology.

Later in the video clip, she’s seen reviewing a Facebook friend request and keeping tabs on the number of hits that her YouTube video has gotten.

Shura is one star of the film (watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAWnVL3yMeU), which captures the challenges, successes, and humor that seniors in a Toronto retirement community experience while learning to use computers for the first time.

The Cyber-Seniors program was the brainchild of two sisters, Macaulee and Kascha Cassaday. When they were in high school in 2009, the two decided to do a community service project in their Toronto, Canada neighborhood that brought teenage mentors to a local retirement home to introduce seniors to technology.

Their older sister Saffron, a filmmaker, and their mom eventually made the documentary about the program and the film debuted earlier this year.

Though the two younger sisters are now in college, the Cyber-Seniors education program they started continues and it also has been an inspiration in other communities, where similar program are sprouting up.

Tiptoeing into a new world

The teen mentors take seniors step by step into cyberspace. Such programs are hugely beneficial both to the seniors and to the teen mentors. Initially, students get involved to do community service and because the activity looks good on college applications.

But many develop deeper relationships beyond technology, according to Cassaday. “It’s cool for them to be an expert on a topic that they can use to mentor someone older,” she comments. “It’s a really fun way to help out in their community and this is a skill that comes naturally to them.”

For seniors, getting online opens a new world. The average age of the seniors in the film was 90 and most had never touched a mouse before.

Sure, they were skittish at the outset, but the draw, according to Cassaday, was the ability to connect with family.

“Once they saw that they could talk with their grandkids through Skype and share Facebook messages and send texts to them, they were hooked,” she comments.

Connecting with the past and the present

Cassaday describes the seniors’ first time online as amazing and eye-opening for them. Some used Google Earth to look at the house they grew up in and followed their route to school by using Street View.

Another 77-year-old lady saw no point to learning about computers. After all, she was going out regularly, attending parties, and lunching with friends. She dismissed the training until she discovered she was missing out on party invitations because she lacked an e-mail account.

Cassaday points to another man who realized how valuable online banking and shopping could be, especially during winter when it was hard to get outside and get around.

“Being able to get on line is empowering,” says Cassaday.

YouTube competition

And then there’s YouTube.

Many residents were captivated with the site’s music, learning, and how-tos. 

Shura especially liked the cooking segments and thought it would be fun to make her own cooking tutorial.

Living in a retirement center without a full kitchen in her unit was no deterrent for her.

She made corn-on-the-cob in her kettle and used her iron to turn out a grilled cheese sandwich. The crew filmed her efforts and uploaded it to YouTube. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEOqm_x2I3A


Her video also inspired a competition that had seniors from Canada and the United States making and uploading videos to the Cyber-Seniors’ YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/cyberseniorscorner).

Some talk about their hobbies, some recall WWII experiences, and others share bits of wisdom.  At an awards ceremony, one person gets crowned the winner of the competition.

Combatting woes of aging

Though there’s lots of fun involved and comedic twists in the film, there’s a serious side to the technology education too.

Such mentoring programs have the power to minimize digital and generational gulfs. Cassaday was surprised by the mentors’ patience and kindness and the happiness they got from working with the seniors.

“Many teenagers don’t have relationships with people of that age or the opportunity to hang out with them. Using the computer gives the two groups common ground and it’s a great way to bring the generations together,” she observes.

And gaining new technology skills has the power to combat so many woes associated with aging, including loneliness, isolation, and the feeling of being out of touch. Plus, it provides critical intellectual stimulation. 

“You see these people who seem like they’re from such completely different worlds, but they learn to see the good in one another,” says Cassaday. “Lots of seniors like being around younger people because it make them feel younger and breathes new life into them.”


Learn more about the Cyber Seniors program (http://cyberseniorsdocumentary.com) and how you can replicate its success.

Guides and how-tos:  Cassaday’s goal is to introduce more seniors to the joy of technology. The Cyber-Seniors site includes an array of how-tos, resources, and step-by-step guides both for mentors and seniors.

Screenings: The film is available (http://cyberseniorsdocumentary.com/contact/request-a-screening) for screenings.

“We want organizations –schools, retirement centers, companies, and community groups -- to host events and screen the movie to get mentors and seniors interested and involved,” says Cassaday. AARP, AT&T and Google have all hosted such events.

Heightening the awareness of the film and its concepts works.

One teenager in British Columbia saw the movie trailer and was inspired to start her own training program for local seniors. Then someone from Best Buy spotted a newspaper article about her plans and the retailer stepped in to outfit a North Vancouver retirement center with technology gear that included a desktop computer, tablets, a karaoke machine, and a Wii U gaming system.

Connecting programs, gear, mentors: The Cyber Seniors site (http://cyber-seniors.ca/get-involved) connects those who want to offer or receive training, lists those who have space or technology equipment for donation or public use, and helps people find local programs. Search for your city by zip or postal code. 

By Elyse Umlauf-Garneau