How Will We Teach Our Grandparents To Use Facebook?

I remember trying to teach my grandmother how to play Nintendo. I was six and she was fifty six. She would humor me and my brother, pretending that she knew how to hold the controller and navigate the Mario avatar. It was a hilarious sight to see – the old crow of a woman, squatting in a yellow plastic chair in out childhood playroom, leaning intently towards the TV screen, her long, bony fingers grasping the controller. She seemed to me in that moment the definition of an oxymoron.

My grandmother never advanced past the same spot in Mario Brothers. Like clockwork, four seconds in to the first game of the first level, the same troglodyte gumba would slither across the screen and my grandmother was a goner. My brother and I could teach her how to jump, and teach her how to move to the left, but she could never seem to do both at the same time.

I never understood her desire to learn Nintento until I grew older. I realized that it was never about the Nintendo, but about her desire to spend time with us and to engage in something with us. Looking back on the scene, my grandmother’s inability to engage with the technology of my childhood reaffirms for me the generational gap between us. She was a seamstress who was born in Italy and immigrated to Canada. Her life was hallmarked by war and preoccupied with survival. I was a six-year-old raised on Cheerios and Nintendo. We would lead very different lives.

Since my grandfather died nearly three years ago, I’ve wanted to teach my grandmother how to use a computer. If I could teach her how to Skype or use Facebook, I think she’d be a little less lonely, as she’s be able to video chat with family members who are now dispersed throughout North America. She’s excited about the idea, but insists that she isn’t smart enough to work a computer. My grandmother, a woman who could take a sewing machine apart and put it back together or make a wedding dress from scratch, can’t fathom that she could operate Facebook.

In an effort to make social media more accessible for seniors, North Sydney’s Stanton Library in Australia will offer a series of “Facebook courses for seniors.” The Library is one of the first in the world to offer social media training for a generation of elderly who were raised on small talk and letters rather than instant messaging and e-mail. The library is also offering courses for seniors looking to improve basic computer literacy.

According to our sibling blog AllFacebook, the number of Facebook users over 55 has increased by 60% just in the last year. In a recent article for Time Magazine, Lew Grossman argues that Facebook is great for “old fogies,” listing ten reasons why Facebook – although it’s a new social media platform – is actually designed for the elderly. Among the reasons, Grossman suggests that because the social network enables users to find people they’ve lost track of, and because it can be operated from home, Fabebook is the ideal platform for those over 55.

As seniors start engaging with social media, the generational gap between youth and elders today may become at least partially bridged – that is, of course, if we can teach our grandparents to hold the controller.