Millennial Microaggression: Aren’t All Seniors Digital Dimwits?

In both my consulting business and my teaching I frequently hear Millennials talk about seniors not being tech savvy. While the term “seniors” has different age boundaries, some as low as 50-plus and others as high as 70-plus, the message comes through that most Baby Boomers and those older than them don’t have the digital chops to receive messages online and through their smartphones.

gen yIn both my consulting business and my teaching I frequently hear Millennials talk about seniors not being tech savvy. While the term “seniors” has different age boundaries, some as low as 50-plus and others as high as 70-plus, the message comes through that most Baby Boomers and those older than them don’t have the digital chops to receive messages online and through their smartphones.

So when an agency’s digital media specialist says, “We’ll need to do some offline stuff for the senior market” or a student working on a marketing project says, “You can’t reach the older demographic on social media,” I have to say, “You know, you’re talking about people my age.”

It makes them pause because they may be friends with me on Facebook, or they may be one of my 1,000-plus LinkedIn connections. They may have collaborated with me on digital campaigns for their clients or been coached by me in the Collegiate ECHO Challenge. Some have even been lucky enough to take an Uber with me to a lunch that I booked on OpenTable (I usually have to buy). So they know my capabilities, but don’t seem to connect the dots that there are others my age and older who know their way around the digital space.

Some of the older digital natives have a vague recollection of accessing AOL on dial-up, and some may remember texting using the telephone keypad of a flip-phone (press the number two three times for the letter C). But that’s about as far back as their technology journey goes. They’re amazed when they hear stories of a workplace before email or even fax machines and primitive home electronics. “How did you get anything done?”and “OMG, black and white TV?”

Pew Internet data does show that fewer people aged 65-plus have smartphones and broadband access than younger age groups. But my personal experience has been that, more than age, the factor driving the digital divide is workplace experience. If someone in their 60s worked in an environment where they used a personal computer most of the day, they are more likely to be tech-savvy than someone half their age who works as a skilled tradesman and uses a different set of tools.

So while the recent focus on microaggression is centered mostly on racism and sexism, let me add ageism to that mix. Recently over dinner with a student, I was discussing a marketing project aimed at Boomers and he said, “So you have to figure out what all these old people want.” Really!?!

Author: Chuck McLeester

Chuck McLeester's blog explores issues about marketing and marketing measurement. He is a marketing strategist and analyst with experience in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, financial services, pet products, travel/hospitality, publishing and other categories. He spent several years as a client-side direct marketer and 25 years on the agency side developing expertise in direct, digital, and relationship marketing. Now he consults with marketers and advertising agencies to create measurable marketing programs.

7 thoughts on “Millennial Microaggression: Aren’t All Seniors Digital Dimwits?”

  1. A marketing exec I worked with in the nineties once said this about a young, brash and upcoming tech marketer who was often condescending to us thirty-somethings: “He’s smart but needs to grow into his puppy feet.”

    Ageism is alive and well, and symptomatic of what used to be called The Generation Gap. I would like to see it eradicated like sexism and racism, but believe that may be a longer process. That’s another subject, but I think you make a good point about the work environment; I have a friend in his late forties who was an auto tech all his career. He doesn’t text and when he applied for a job online he needed his wife’s help (an attorney in her late fifties) because he isn’t tech savvy. And your clueless student who said “We have to figure out what all these old people want,” is on the right track. How do marketers develop better channel strategies that target Boomer/Seniors based on tech usage?

    1. Hey Scott, hate to tell you this, but neither sexism nor racism have been eliminated in America, so I don’t know what country you are talking about. As for ageism, it’s alive and well in the tech and martech communities and spilling over into other sectors. In fact, it, like the other isms is a long way from being eradicated. And, based on the fact that this culture gave up respecting the value of people with age experience (unlike Asians) long ago, it’s not likely to change any time soon.

      1. You’ve misunderstood my comment, and maybe I could have written my intent clearer in that sentence so I’ll take partial responsibility for that. Absolutely racism and sexism are alive and well in America and even more so in every country I’ve visited (which includes five Asian countries).

        1. Glad to hear that I misunderstood you. Yep racism is definitely alive and well and yes in every Asian country I’ve visited too, but I wasn’t talking about racism in Asia, I was talking about ageism, something they don’t suffer from or at least nowhere near the extreme of the US.

  2. This is extremely unfortunate. I see it as incredibly ironic, that some millennials are willing to generalize and discriminate it the exact same way that we are generalized and discriminated against. (By the way, I’ve seen a black and white TV and was mildly horrified – but I’ve also taken my turn with the beginnings of texting and had to press the two button three times just to get a ‘C’ before T9word existed).

    Putting your entire target audience into a box will never help you be effective in marketing. While the majority of your audience may prefer social updates, there will also be a substantial portion that prefers a hard copy of your material in their mail. I know that I am likely to miss updates on social media – there’s so much going on on so many different mediums, it’s impossible to keep up – but I also enjoy getting mail that isn’t bills, and I’m 23. I have one grandmother who texts me at least once a week to update me on her life, but also has another who writes out her emails with a pen and paper so my grandfather can type it up and send it out for her.

    Ultimately, I think your article just goes to show that discrimination, ageism in this case, is alive. We will be most effective if we toss those preconceived notions away and get to know our audience. And, if you can’t do that, you have no business being in this business because you won’t succeed.

  3. Well, this discrimination is one of the reasons why I never reveal that as a tech-savvy person I belong to an age group that started life well before Bill Gates, Mark Zuckenberg, Steve Jobs, TV or going to the Moon or WWII. None of my clients can have any prejudices because I keep them in the dark about something that does not matter – my work does. And the few who know, don’t care.

    On the other side of the coin, I do know that many in their 60-70-80s are considered ‘technologically challenged’. Or seem to be. WHY? Their priorities have changed: they realise that there is so much to do without technology, there is life beyond Facebook etc, a simple instrument that just makes phone calls is good enough, selfies and texting about what you had for breakfast is of no interest, there is no need to read all the newsflash etc. and (I tell them) if they want something technological, ask their grandchildren. And those who are interested in being ‘up there’ learn and adapt – like having Facebook just to quietly watch what their grandchildren are doing.

    So the target: USE the media that reaches them – get to know the audience rather than generalise, use discriminatory boxes and labels and fail.

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