Tech and the Senior Girl

My mother never wants anyone to know her EXACT age, let’s just say she is qualified to get Senior Citizen discounts, she gave birth to me in 1953 and she was 27 years old at the time.  As they say, you do the math.  My mother retired after 22 years of owning her own staffing agency only 3 years ago. For someone her age, she is pretty tech-savvy and definitely tech-curious. She loves Facebook, email, and playing games on the computer. She joined LinkedIn, loves to sign up on websites and post comments and she wants to learn how to Twitter. About a year ago I opened up an iTunes account for her and handed over my old iPod. She has taken it on several cruises and plays it in the kitchen through the speaker device I gave her. Recently, I got an iPhone and she was really fascinated by all the stuff it can do-most particularly talking to “Siri”. My middle daughter decided she may be ready to graduate to an iPod Touch so she re-gifted “Memaw” her old one. We presented a brief tutorial, handed her a stylus to make the typing a bit easier and now she is off and running. The device has opened up another world for her to explore and learn and the fact that she is mastering a new technology has been a boon to her self-esteem.

My mother’s experience is nothing new to researchers who investigate aging and technology as well as the learning process unique to older adults.  The notion behind older adult learning theory is that immediate relevance and problem-solving are the biggest motivators for acquiring knowledge in an unfamiliar area.  It took a while but many senior citizens finally gave in and joined Facebook because communicating with their grandchildren was a very relevant priority in their lives. In fact, some of those grandkids had more patience than their parents and took the time to show their grandparents how to set up a profile page.  Who would have thought that helping Granny post her “status” would replace baking chocolate chip cookies as an inter-generational bonding activity? My favorite adult child teaching their parents how to navigate the tech world is Tech Savvy Daughter. Her family outgrew the need for her computer skills so now she kindly helps the rest of us! More senior centers and other areas where older adults gather have also gotten on board in terms of providing both computers and computer education programs. Companies like SeniorNet and Senior Surf are two that come to mind.

The need to problem-solve is an additional motivator for learning in later years. Knowing how to search the Internet for information in such areas as healthcare, travel arrangements and particularly Medicare questions is so important for seniors who want to remain independent. The issue of retaining independence as we age will certainly be enhanced by rapid technological advances in home monitoring and health devices. Products like Apple Interactive Care, Life Alert (“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”) and Philips Medication Dispensing Service have provided seniors living alone and their children at least some peace of mind.

But luckily (at least for now), my mother is very content using her iPod for pure entertainment. Rockin’ out to Frank Sinatra while she slings Angry Birds at those annoying little pigs.






Spread the word about Lifelong Learning

Recently in the U.S. News & World Report, Dave Bernard composed a brief list of reasons why retirees should consider continuing their education sooner rather than later. He mentions benefits such as pursuing personal interests, staying busy, sharp and socially engaged. Unfortunately, these lifelong learning opportunities are sometimes elusive to potentially eager older adult students. Reasons may include; lack of awareness about organizations that promote lifelong learning, not living in areas that offer such classes and, finally, spending money on continuing ed classes in this economy may be a luxury some retirees feel they cannot afford.

However, I believe trying to overcome these obstacles in pursuit of knowledge are well worth the effort.  Research studies purport that continuing education beyond retirement age can positively impact quality of life in older persons. Also, given the current fast-moving digital age we live in, even learning minimal technology skills could be beneficial to connecting the retiree to an ever transient social community of family and friends.

It may sound as if I have known about lifelong learning initiatives and the mental health “perks” associated with it for some time. In truth, I have only recently become aware of this global trend. When I launched Snabbo in 2009, I tried to dream up ways to get the word out about a new online social network geared to Baby  Boomers. I reasoned that colleges and universities might be teaching computer skills to older adults. As I began an Internet search, I was amazed to discover lifelong learning programs that were available literally around the world. Upon closer examination of  what courses were being offered, I noticed classes with titles such as  “How to Use Facebook” or “Get your face on Facebook”. The thought occurred to me that if colleges were teaching Facebook to older adults then maybe they would include Snabbo in the curriculum as an example of a “niche” social network.  Rather than compose an email to send to the program directors of these institutions, I chose to make personal phone calls explaining my idea. I spoke to some amazingly dedicated individuals who have seen firsthand what a wonderful difference expanding knowledge in later life can make. I heard stories of lonely widows/widowers whose once a week class attendance gave them access to much-needed social interaction as well as new friends. People who may have been viewed as “old dogs” were actually learning new tricks. Some programs offered reduced tuition, scholarships, and rides to class. In the end, I became obsessed with finding out about each program and called program directors all over the world. SERIOUSLY. Some followed through and added Snabbo to their curriculum when they taught social network classes. But I was the one who actually learned something.

One problem I see is that lifelong learning opportunities don’t appear to get enough strong PR in some communities. Finding money in the budget for advertising is probably a huge issue for these programs. Therefore, any credible “free press” they can get must be appreciated.  I applaud Mr. Bernard’s blog post for directing attention to this topic. He includes some wonderful links to lifelong learning programs and other relevant websites.

Here are some links from my VERY long list. Feel free to contact me if you would like access to any more locations.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute


Plus50 Community Colleges: Ageless Learning

Encore Careers

Road Scholar



The Final Product

Jake Carlson and I worked tirelessly on the details of what Snabbo should look like, how it should perform and what type of interactive features someone in the Baby Boomer demographic might like to have available for use.

We researched other Baby Boomer websites and other niche social networks. We tried to cull what we liked and didn’t like from them all. Jake is an extremely talented programmer and he was able to develop any new ideas we decided to implement for the site.

As I have mentioned before in my earlier blogs, all meetings with Jake were basically ”virtual”. Either we met on the phone while looking at the development site for Snabbo or we discussed points via email. For me, it was a very unusual way to start a business, conduct business or just discuss important business matters. I bring this point up again only because I find it relevant to Baby Boomers who are thinking of re-joining the workforce. You might want to take a course or two on how to conduct searches on the internet and how to most effectively use email and all forms of social media.

Anyway, back to Snabbo.

So, Jake and I would try to thoroughly talk through and refine each feature of Snabbo before we went on to the next level of development. I must say here that I was chomping at the bit to get the website finished and launched. But Jake was influential in persuading me to slow down and take the necessary time and thought to create a product that was sophisticated and elegant in its functionality. I feel we did that with Snabbo. It was very tempting to rush through the process and get a website publically launched as soon as possible. Other programmers had offered that “carrot” to me as part of their development quote. In the end, I believe I would have sacrificed a lot of design techniques and features that, by developing the website thoughtfully with Jake, I feel we now have on Snabbo.

The final product works like this. Members upload one photograph of themselves taken any time during the 1940’s through the 1980’s to serve as their identifying “Member Profile” picture. The concept is that Snabbo enables the Baby Boomer generation to behave as if we had both the internet and social networking sites when we were young. On Snabbo, we can have a ‘face book’ experience–only with the same ‘face’ we had in our heyday.

Finding friends on Snabbo is easier than on other social networking sites since members list all the names they have been known as during their lifetime. For example, you may have been known as Margaret Smith in elementary school, Maggie Smith in high school, Tootsie Smith in college and finally Meg Eldringhoff when you got married. Members are also able to list (with corresponding years) towns they grew up in, schools they attended, companies they have worked for and organizations they have joined, including the military. The more information members provide about their past, the more likely someone can reconnect with them. So, if a person only remembers that in 1959 they went to a party where they met a girl whose name was Jane and she lived in Toledo, Ohio where she went to Mercy College School of Nursing-if she is a member of Snabbo-It’s a BINGO!

As a bonus, and unique to Snabbo, the website automatically creates a move by move, place by place chronological personal history that the member invariably finds interesting and reflective. Ultimately, Snabbo members have the opportunity to become a community that builds an extensive, searchable database of their peers, thus opening abundant reconnection possibilities.

In addition, Snabbo features a slick and easy photo tool. Members can create, manage and share eye-catching albums. Snabbo also provides opportunities to form or join groups with shared interests and the freedom to document their thoughts, opinions and feelings on a blog. Private messages between members can also be exchanged within the site. All under the aegis of strict privacy controls….and it’s free.

Snabbo is as mature-user friendly as we could make it. We tried to keep in mind that our target demographic may or may not be Internet savvy. A significant number of baby boomers have not yet been exposed to social networking and we wanted Snabbo to be a successful first time user-experience for them.

Even Snabbo’s advertising model caters to the desire to reminisce. Throughout the site, members will encounter nostalgic-focused products that relate to this inimitable generation.