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!?!