By Tak Sato
After we hugged and said our goodbyes, my mom disappeared into the sea of fellow travelers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport early this morning. The last time I had seen my mom in the “real world” (in person) was when I went home for my dad’s funeral. We use FaceTime, Hangouts and Google Duo video chat apps to augment my daily phone calls.
I don’t know about you, but as my mom ages-in-place in Japan, I cherish every opportunity we can be together. This visit was no exception. Time seems to go by faster during visits and distance doesn’t help in our case.
Staying in Touch with Tech
The warmth of a hug, which I refer to as the “connectedness” factor between people, can never be replaced; I believe most of you will agree.
But from personal experience and anecdotal evidence through candid conversations with Boomers, the digital world communication mediums increase the connectedness factor. That is if, in the first place, we accept them as options.
I keep hearing comments such as “I wish my grandkids visit me more often” or “I don’t know how my grandkids are doing because they never return my call.” Those sentiments actually align with what I’m seeing with intergenerational communication preference differences.
Communication methods have evolved, especially with the commercialization of the internet, social media and proliferation of always-connected devices. A smartphone is not only a phone but is also a camera and countless other things that they can morph into with the addition of an app.
Almost all “digital natives” (younger people) — and many digital immigrants (Boomers), such as myself — use smartphones and their apps to stay in touch. Dispersing information on social media once to update our friends does away with the need to repeat the same information to multiple parties. When we finally meet in the real world, it’s as if our friends know everything that has happened.
Nothing beats a hug in-person and nothing is more valuable than being together in the real world. However, why not accept the communication preferences of digital natives (your kids and grandkids), and you too can benefit from getting their life updates? After all, an option is better than no option when it comes to nurturing connectedness.
Bridge the Generation Divide
Accept: Many of your younger family members, the digital natives, prefer to use communication mediums in the digital world. As a digital immigrant, you can adopt the digital natives’ way of communicating because it is how they prefer to pass along information. When you join in, you can stay abreast of what’s going on.
Join In: If you don’t have a computer, tablet or smartphone, consider getting one if your budget permits. Many of our graduates opt to upgrade their flip phone or get a smartphone when using their newly attained digital literacy skills. Skype with relatives in Poland? Check. The world becomes small and more accessible when you’re connected.
Post: On Facebook, for example, “Friend” your kids, grandkids and others you want to read updates from. You don’t need to post anything yourself.
Chat: Ask your family what they use to video chat. Using the same device and/or app, if possible, should make communication easier. One example is the iPhone FaceTime feature.
Save: If a smartphone is the only device you own that is connected to the internet, you can save money on the smartphone-related monthly charge line item called “mobile data” that lets you be connected to the internet sans Wi-Fi. Using private or public Wi-Fi saves you from using up your monthly mobile data allotment while keeping it for when Wi-Fi is not available.
Tak Sato is the founder of the Cleveland-area nonprofit Center for Aging in the Digital World (empowerseniors.org). He lives happily in both the digital and real worlds with his wife and their son.