In 2012, 93-year-old Marion Kiddell signed up for Cyber-Seniors, a computer tutorial program at her assisted living facility in Toronto. She learned how to surf the web, send emails, and create a Facebook profile. But most of all, she was taken with YouTube–in particular, a video featuring an 88-year-old woman who cooks grilled cheese with an iron.
Kiddell wanted a video that highlighted her own talents. In her youth, she’d been a singer. So she asked her 15-year-old Cyber-Seniors mentor to help. And thus, Rapping Granny was born. To date, the video has nearly 24,000 views.
The mentorship program was initially designed to help the elderly connect with their grandchildren. But in Kiddell’s enthusiasm, the Cyber-Seniors team saw an opportunity for creative engagement. “Most of the blogs, photos, and videos on the Internet are created by millennials,” says Brenda Rusnak, whose teenage daughters, Macaulee and Kascha Cassaday, founded Cyber-Seniors. “We wanted seniors to have more of a voice online. Not just reading and viewing but posting their own material.”
Rusnak and daughter Saffron Cassaday (who acted as director) were concurrently filming a documentary about the organization, and the team decided that a competition would provide a fun narrative climax. They asked the seniors to submit videos sharing their knowledge and experience. Prizes would be awarded for the most hits, likes, and number of comments.
25 teams signed up. “We observed that their competitive spirits were still there,” says Rusnak. “It brought out an element of their personalities that young people don’t realize exist in older people. They still have the ability to have fun, to be contributing members of society.”
The entries included exercise tips from 90-year-old Ellard Yeo and a collaboration between 77-year-old Annette Rapoport and her young mentor Kate Babkova on how to pre-game and pick up men.
Shura Eadie, who had delighted viewers with her ironed sandwich, made another cooking tutorial about mixing cocktails.
The competition was so successful that Cyber-Seniors is about to launch a North America-wide contest called “Show and Tell.” They’re calling on pairs of youth and seniors to produce two-minute videos showcasing the wisdom, talents and humor of the older generation. The winners will receive tablets.
A second contest will ask high schools to submit short teaching tutorials aimed at older adults. Cyber-Seniors is currently looking for a sponsor to award the wining school a new tech lab.
At first glance, the Cyber-Seniors documentary (which is currently touring Canada and the U.S.), seems like an amusing take on the generation gap. In fact, it highlights an overlooked creative population. At worst, we see the elderly as outmoded; at best we call their technological ignorance cute. Why not give them some practical tools to communicate and create. Years from now, when we’re perceived as old and out of touch, won’t we be eager for the same?