Editor’s note: Saffron Cassaday is the director of the comedic documentary feature film “Cyber-Seniors,” which follows several senior citizens as they learn how to use the Internet through the guidance of teenagers. She is on Twitter.
HLN: How did you come up with the idea to connect senior citizens and teenagers?
Saffron Cassaday: My two younger sisters started the Cyber-Seniors program when they were in high school because they were inspired by our grandparents, who learned to use the Internet in their 80s and it changed their lives. They started the program in a retirement home in Toronto and I was starting out as a filmmaker, so I tagged along. I realized pretty quickly that it would make for an important film.
HLN: Did the filming process go as you expected?
Cassaday: I thought, “Wouldn’t it be so fun if two seniors start online dating and fall in love? Or if one senior gets into online gaming and becomes an expert?” But I quickly started to realize that the main reason seniors get online was not to make new friends but to connect with family: To be able to see pictures of their grandkids and communicate with them. About halfway through, [one of the seniors], Shura, got really into online cooking tutorials and wanted to make her own. She didn’t have a stove in her apartment, and she showed us how she usually makes her lunch, so we made a YouTube video. All of her family and all the other seniors loved it. I realized that’s the direction we want to go into: Raise the stakes by doing a competition.
HLN: What did you learn throughout the filming process?
Cassaday: It was really interesting to spend time with people in their 90s. People are living much longer now and they’re still healthy, thriving and enjoying life. I noticed that the seniors who really make it a point to keep growing are the ones who do better later in life. I learned that it’s never too late to learn something new, never too old to make new connections. It definitely opened my eyes to the idea that later life could be a rewarding time, not something to be scared of, and that a positive attitude is the most important thing. When we asked seniors in their 90s what they would attribute living this long to, the one thing they had in common was a positive attitude and love of lie.
HLN: What are the different habits of seniors and teenagers online?
Cassaday: One thing I found interesting is that the millennials are the main contributors to web content: Creating blogs, posting photos, etc. Seniors are mostly consuming what is online. That’s another reason why we liked the idea of the YouTube competition: It was a chance for the seniors to contribute their own content. I think it’s important for them to have a voice.
HLN: What was the biggest challenge you noticed?
Cassaday: For the seniors, it was fear. A lot of them were nervous. It’s difficult to try something new, especially at that age, and a lot of them feared failure. They didn’t want to mess up or break the computer. But both of these populations seem to be forgetful! I’d set up meetings, and the younger people wouldn’t show up. Or we’d show up at the senior place and they’d forget why we were there.
HLN: What was the most heart-warming moment?
Cassaday: Seeing a 92-year-old woman Skype for the first time with her great-grandchild. They both live in the same city, but they don’t get many opportunities to see each other. To see her sing “The Wheels on the Bus” over Skype was very sweet. It was the best part of her day.
HLN: Did you find this experience helped bridge the generational gap?
Cassaday: Absolutely! We really saw a change in the teens’ perspective. When they first got into it, they were nervous because it’s not a demographic they’re used to, but they quickly started enjoying it. They learned to communicate clearly and be more patient: They started out rushing through lessons, but they needed to start from the very beginning, speak clearly and face the seniors. Today, you talk while looking at your cell phone, but seniors wouldn’t be able to understand you if you did that.
HLN: You hope people implement this program in their towns. How close are you to your 1 million youth goal?
Cassaday: We’ve just gotten started, so now we’re encouraging other communities to start their own programs. We have a downloadable handbook to help you teach a senior, posters to put up in your school to help recruit people and a video presentation to share with fellow students. At the first film screening we did, the students started their own program. Hopefully, the screenings inspire a similar movement in each of the communities we go to.
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HLN: If you were to explain these terms to seniors, how would you do it?
Hashtag: It looks like a number sign and you use it to type in key words that are trending online.
Retweet: When you post something online and someone likes what you say so they repost to all their friends.
The Wall: Where people write you messages and you can post photos; it’s a timeline for people to see what you’ve been up to.
A chat: A conversation in real time but done via typing on the computer.
FaceTime: Like a phone call but with video, so you can see the person on the other end.
Viral video: A video that’s posted online that gets extremely popular and is shared between a huge number of people; at least 1 million people have viewed it.
Podcast: Like a radio show but online.