Connecting Generations Through Technology: Generation Connect
Writer Michael Vyskocil
Photographer Lucia De Giovanni
Founded in 2013 by siblings Nacole and Michael Potteiger, Generation Connect breaks down a technology divide that can separate older adults from the people who matter most in their lives—children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, and family members. Here, the iPad becomes not merely another tech device, but a tool to stay connected.
“We want to facilitate intergenerational connections,” Michael Potteiger says. Inspiration for Generation Connect came from the experiences he had introducing his own grandmother to the iPad and witnessing the technology’s transformative power across generations.
What started as individual technology training with iPads soon began to gain momentum through a meeting with Dr. Mary Ligon, chair of the behavioral sciences department at York College. Ligon’s Working With Older Adults course provides students an opportunity to engage with older adults in the York community.
In fall 2015, through a grant from the Hahn Home’s Embracing Aging Fund of the York County Community Foundation as part of its embracing aging initiative, Potteiger and Ligon collaborated on an effort to introduce lessons on technology concepts and app features to members of the White Rose Senior Center in downtown York. From learning to stream music with Pandora to friending and liking on Facebook, the seniors forged relationships with Ligon’s students beyond information sharing alone; they formed intergenerational connections.
“We gave them the knowledge of technology and tech skills, but they taught us more about life lessons,” says York College senior nursing major Courtney Golden. “Just because technology is something my generation is familiar with, it doesn’t mean older adults don’t have a desire to learn.”
Potteiger says that as the result of that semester-long experience, he and Ligon have designed a blueprint to help other colleges and student organizations create an intergenerational program focusing on tech lessons with Generation Connection’s signature person-centered approach.
Additionally, Potteiger is working with California-based gerontologist Debby Dodds to use tablet technology to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Naturally, with technology forming a core part of Generation Connect, Potteiger says that Internet connectivity is one of his largest challenges. “We’d do a kickoff event, and I’d get an entire community pumped about using mobile technology, and we’d get to a class and the Wi-Fi network wouldn’t work. If people have a frustrating experience out of the gate, they might dismiss the idea altogether,” he says.
Gigabit Internet, he adds, opens avenues of possibilities to expand the Generation Connect concept beyond U.S. borders. “We could do teleconferencing training. How cool would this be to do group iPad training [globally]?”
With smart homes and wearables becoming an increasing part of the senior living community lifestyle, Potteiger says that making sure residents and staff are comfortable using devices and technology is key.
“iRelevance is that often overlooked first step.”
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