By Frances Murphy “Toni” Draper,
AFRO CEO and Publisher
Let me say from the outset that I love technology. Some might even call me an early adopter, as I’ve been told by my Gen X children and Gen Z grands that I’m tech-savvy. But, make no mistake about it, I am a digital immigrant (more about that later) who readily gave up her Blackberry for the first iPhone nearly 15 years ago. I have upgraded to the latest version of Steve Jobs’ groundbreaking invention every year since (even though I think the iPhone 14 is overrated).
The latest MacBook pro, iPad and Apple watch round out my hardware arsenal. Now, I’m not saying any of this to impress you, but just to reinforce the point that as a digital immigrant, I love technology and its potential. No, I do not fully know how to use every feature, but I look forward to learning new things every day – and there are lots of things to learn. Technology is constantly changing, and we’ve come a long way since Six Degrees was founded in 1996. Friendster and Myspace are only vague memories.
Unfortunately, Baby Boomers (like myself) often get a bad rap when it comes to technology. Some people assume that if you’re over a certain age, you are severely technology challenged or that you have no interest in technology. There are jokes about paper boarding passes or becoming like your parents (like that’s some kind of curse) or that because you’re older you are unable to use technology to navigate the simplest tasks. There are also stereotypical assumptions, bordering on ageism, that suggest many older people do not use social media or if they do it’s Facebook (Meta) only because that’s the platform for “old people.”
Here are the facts: According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of people over 65 in the U.S. use the internet, up from 14 percent in 2000. The older the person, the less likely he or she is to embrace the internet, social media, or smartphones, but those who have adopted these technologies use them a lot and learn new skills to do so.
Seniors are the fastest growing online demographic, though some remain holdouts. In many of those cases, the real barrier to entry isn’t technological—it’s personal preference. Afterall, according to everythingzoomer.com, the Boomer generation (born 1946-1964) and the silent generation (1928-1945) are responsible for many breakthrough technologies including DNA fingerprinting, the Jarvik 7, Apple II, the WWW, free shipping, the universal serial bus port (USB), the ethernet, the nanoscale motor, synthetic skin and flex foot prosthesis to name a few.
The expansion of radio, television, mobile phones, personal computers, and the internet has been pioneered by Boomers. And let’s not forget African-American technology superstars like Dr. Mark Dean, who co-invented the color IBM PC monitor and gigahertz chip and Dr. James E. West, who co-invented more than 90 per cent of the microphones used in phones and cameras today. Then there’s Janet E. Bashen, the first Black woman to receive a patent for a web-based software solution. And, so many more!
People use technology, including social media, for all kinds of reasons, and Baby Boomers are no exception. Social media helps keep people connected, provides an easy way to share information, is open 24/7, is relatively easy to use, allows for speedy communication, helps build relationships, makes the world seem much smaller than it actually is and opens new lines of communication.
Many people, especially the youngest among us, cannot fathom a day without social media. Everywhere we look — in restaurants, airports, street corners, ball games, entertainment venues — people are constantly on their phones. In fact, our devices are often the first thing we reach for in the morning, and the last thing we touch before our heads hit the pillow. We even text people who are in the same room with us. However, studies have shown that chronic users of social media are more likely to suffer from poor mental health including symptoms of anxiety and depression. Then there’s cyberbullying, cancel culture, fear of missing out and addiction to social media, not to mention the inability to form meaningful relationships without a device in hand.
Digital natives (Millennials and Gen Zers) grew up – in varying degrees – don’t know what it’s like to not have a cell phone or other device at their fingertips. They understand technology in a way that Baby Boomers i.e. digital immigrants—those who learned how to use computers at some stage during their adult life — rarely will.
Digital immigrants, I believe, have the best of both worlds. While they rely on and appreciate social media and other technologies, many still prefer face to face conversations and can put their phones down or turn them off, without feeling like they’re missing the latest post, the latest like, the latest update, the latest photo, the latest video, the latest TikTok, the latest Clubhouse (or is that party over?).
Digital immigrants, for the most part, are used to building relationships by looking people in the eye and having forthright, honest conversations. They know how to interact in digital as well as in non-digital spaces. They tend to judge people as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “by the content of their character.” And they’re okay (really okay) if someone doesn’t like them or follow them.
At the AFRO we have a healthy mix of both digital natives and digital immigrants. Our readers also span multiple generations. Therefore, the entire AFRO team— advertising, archives, digital, editorial, executive, financial and production— made this special edition available with a focus on many aspects of technology.
You might see an employee who’s witnessed phenomenal changes in the way the AFRO comes through. In another article, read how technology is advancing learning in Baltimore public schools. If you haven’t heard of Hack the Hood, keep reading. And if employment is a need, find out how the metaverse is widening the possibilities.
There’s a little something for everyone with a nose for technology.
Parts of this editorial were originally published in the November 17, 2021 AFRO edition of We’re Still Here.
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