Bridging the Opportunity Divide

How to Bridge the Digital Divide

December 29, 2014
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How to Bridge the Digital Divide
As the "Cyber Seniors" learn to use computers, the elder person's fingers must be on the keyboard the whole time, while the teenager coaches them through maneuvers. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
These seniors demonstrate that you're never too old to learn.

While many claim that devices are causing people to interact less, here’s a great example of technology bringing people together.

Once a week, 16-year-old Mikinly Sullivan travels to the Frasier Meadows retirement home in Boulder, Colo., to visit her friend, 89-year-old Kevin Bunnell. The two were connected through Cyber Seniors, a program that pairs high school volunteers with elderly individuals that need help navigating new-fangled technology.

The program wants to ensure that seniors are learning to use computers — not just letting the young people figure things out for them — so as a rule, the elder person’s fingers must be on the keyboard the whole time, while the teenager coaches them through maneuvers.

Bunnell is a poet, and Sullivan has been helping him organize the many poems he’s written over his lifetime. “I love listening to the stories from when he was young,” Sullivan says to PBS News Hour. In exchange, Bunnell wrote a poem in honor of the Cyber Seniors program.

Another senior benefitting from the program is Bruce Mackenzie. “I’m taking a class at the university called Hip-Hop 101,” he says, “And I didn’t know how to listen to the rap songs that are on hip-hop. And Ryan [a teen participant] showed me how to go to YouTube, which I never knew anything about. So I go to YouTube now and I can listen to all these rap songs for my class.”

While the program’s ultimate mission is to help seniors get online, Jack Williamson, who runs Cyber Seniors, says that it “helps build relationships between young people and seniors, which is rare in this culture today.”

As one student volunteer tells PBS News Hour, “I’m learning a lot from them and they’re learning from me. I have actually found through this that I think I like older people more than I like younger people.”

MORE: When The Elderly Need Help With Chores, This Concierge Service Does the Heavy Lifting

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