A Flight Across a Generational Gap

SilenceHelping Hands

When there is empathy, there is silence no more; when there is no more silence, there is a larger sense of community, for all the mélangée of voices can be heard.

The generational gap is an often overlooked element of societal interactions. The young, while “in sync” with the latest goings-on, are unaware of what those who lived in different time frames used to know. On the other end of the spectrum, people much older and wiser than we are sometimes struggle to relay their message through differences in our daily lives. One such block is technology.

For modern teenagers, the online world has become a part of our very existence (especially with the advent of virtual schooling in the era of COVID-19!). However, senior citizens are often unsure of how to operate digital devices. With our world relying on technology to power daily tasks, it can unfortunately be hard for them to do various activities, such as setting up important online accounts or even connecting with friends and family.

Having seen these challenges, and to address this need, I decided to volunteer with the Teen Tech Help Lab at the library.

The rush of people talking, little children tugging around their favorite library book finds. It was after school on a busy Tuesday night. I walked in, excited for what was to come: I had come across a very interesting opportunity that involved helping library patrons, mainly the older-aged, with tech issues or queries they might have, and was curious as to what this would look like.

“Oh! I see, so that is the button I need to press if I should call?” an elderly lady asked.

“Yes, exactly!” I responded back.

As the half hour went by, the two of us worked on resetting her old phone and starting her new one. During that time, I learned a great deal, which opened my eyes to how disparate the world is for us, and yet how similar.

“You know, this whole process is so confusing! My oldest son tried to explain it to me, and it didn’t work, but it just makes so much more sense coming from a teen,” she chuckled. “Thank you so much, dear, for your help!” As we talked, I realized how wonderful and new the idea of being able to FaceTime with your loved thousands of miles must seem. When she was growing up, that might have just seemed like science fiction, and it felt incredible to be a part of helping make it seem within reach.

As a volunteer, I also broadened my horizons about how different exposures in life shape us to be who we are: technology such as computers and iPads are, for some, an integral part of their life, whereas for others they are an alien and foreign invention. This belief system even trickles down into people’s lifestyles. It must be quite a strange phenomena to see it becoming commonplace to have entire events from your life put on social media. I especially realized this when I was helping a library patron with creating a Facebook account. As she shared photos of her travels in Spain and France that she wanted to post for her friends and talked about other places she wished to explore, I realized just how helpful and yet intimidating the digital world must seem. She shared that she had spent more than two hours trying to create an account and post a photo, to no avail, and that the whole process felt rather confusing and hence discomforting. I could understand her frustration, as it must have been rather discouraging, considering the amount of time she spent.

As we wrapped up a session, her gratitude for now being able to share what is happening in her life with her schoolmates and other relatives made me feel that we as teens, and as people, must strive to use what we can to leave the world at least a tiny bit better than we found it.

It was my fifth week of volunteering; this time, I was explaining how to use the camera feature to snap photos to a grandpa who wished to learn how he could record his grandson’s birthday party. Throughout the session, he told me a bit about George, and how sometimes he felt out of the loop when the young boy would excitedly announce his recent video game victory.

This made me pause and realize that, as strange as it may sound, while technology is a barrier preventing family members from different generations from connecting with each other, it may hold the key to better bonding, too. For instance, cameras and photo-sharing websites allow us to preserve and cherish moments; utilities such as FaceTime and Instagram Direct can be the very tool that helps build communication, even when time zones and distance are barriers.

“Hopefully I can use what I learned from you to surprise him with a video of his party! He’ll be surprised with my upgraded tech skills for sure.” It was heartening to hear that this grandpa could now embark on a fun project close to his heart!

At the end, he even shook my hand, saying, “I really appreciate your help. All these options and settings seem too much, but now I got it.” At that moment, it struck me just how much of a positive difference we can make, and how technology can be incredibly helpful.

In context, technology has been a gift for us throughout the global pandemic — to continue social activities despite the distance, make our voices heard about global issues, and support each other as much as we can during these challenging times. On a personal level, it has allowed me to continue with life as normally as it can be; online school, fun “game days” with friends, and even writing this piece to share my experiences about the incredible uses of technology would not have happened without tech. Life without technology in the pandemic would have been a much harder experience — we humans are a social species, and interactions with others is a large part of our lives. In a similar vein, technology can be used to cross the generational gap, too, and share and discuss our experiences, enabling us to better connect with our older loved ones and for them to relate to us better.

Through my experience as a Teen Tech Help Lab volunteer, I had the opportunity to give back to my greater community, and it brought home an important lesson: we can bridge the differences in our society in so many different ways. And sometimes, it’s the little ways that we can help those around us — even something as simple as guiding someone on how to capture their life on their phone holds the ability to brighten their day.

Rajvi Khanjan Shroff, a 10th grader in Santa Clara, California, is an avid reader and likes to solve puzzles. She loves to learn about the world around her, and believes in looking for the beauty in the everyday! She likes the thought-provoking articles on KidSpirit, and the insight and unique perspectives they offer.

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