Why and How Retirement Workshops Should Teach Baby Boomers About Social Media

Posted on October 22, 2012 · Posted in Organizational Solutions

A serendipitous request

Much of the cooler stuff that I do happens serendipitously, when someone hears of me and comes with a request for something different. In this case it was a friend of a friend who runs workshops for corporate employees approaching retirement. She wanted a lecture about the Internet, to be given to retirees of a Lo-Tech company.

Senior social media user

At first this seemed a problem:  I consult about social media adoption by Gen Y in the enterprise, but that’s the very opposite of Lo-Tech Baby Boomers in their mid-sixties! But as I thought about it I realized that a lecture of this nature is not so much about technology as it is about people, and these were people positioned to seriously benefit from it! I agreed to do it, and ended up with a lecture that was so happily received I decided to make it into a permanent part of my lecture lineup. It’s one of my favorite lectures, too, because of how it helps people – and because, I freely admit, I love social media in just this particular context.

Why I love Social Media

My love for Social Media is a natural extension of my love for the Internet itself, which also had a distinct people overtone to it.

When the World Wide Web exploded in the mid-nineties (remember Mosaic?) I was immediately taken by the way it could connect people to what other people were thinking, doing, and interested in. Perhaps it was a natural extension of my earlier passion for amateur radio; I like interacting with people, and the web – even the drab, black-Roman-Font-on-Gray-Background early web – gave me access to a huge variety of people, mind-provoking content, thoughts, creativity and hobbies. Besides having a field day myself, I took it upon me to lead Intel to adopt the web (including the much-feared “reasonable personal use”!) and I worked hard to educate my fellow employees how to leverage this wonderful new medium to express themselves and expand their horizons. Some did. Others resisted…

As the Social Web evolved before my eyes, the opportunities for intellectually satisfying interaction grew. Like the move I made as a teenager from Shortwave Listening to full fledged Ham Radio, this change empowered us to actually befriend the people at the far end, in ever richer modes. The whole thing can be infinitely rewarding – yet most Baby Boomers (and a surprising number of the younger Gen X folks) completely miss the fun because they just don’t get it.

Hence, my lecture.

Social Media: what’s in it for Baby Boomers in retirement?

There is so much fulfillment  that a retired person can derive online, if only they’d learn to do it. For instance:

  • Start a blog. The potential subjects are infinite; unless you’re totally apathetic, you must have something you care about – a field of knowledge,  a cause, a hobby, a skill – something you can share in a blog. For some the joy is in the creative act of writing, for some it’s the pride of recognition, for others the interaction with commenters…
  • Read blogs. Even if authoring one seems too much, following blogs of interest can be a fascinating part of one’s information consumption routine – and is so superior to watching TV… a truly amazing source of intellectual enrichment.
  • Stay connected via Facebook. By now nobody says it’s just for silly kids… and in fact there’s no better way to stay in touch with remote family and friends, in a light and undemanding manner. Given that when you retire your accustomed ties with many coworkers will be severed, Facebook is a wonderful way to keep in touch with them.
  • Buy (and sell) stuff on eBay. This is an incredible tool for buyers – my collection of historical technology would be decimated without it – and there are countless ways to use it for one’s hobbies and interests. Then there are those seniors who make an avocation, or even a living, by applying the suddenly available time on their hands to selling on eBay.
  • Share images. Using Flickr and its ilk one can share imagery from one’s day to day life with close family and friends. For those whose kids have long flown the nest, it can be a source of great joy.
  • Stay relevant. The Internet is at the heart of today’s global village. As you grow old you can hide behind the “I can’t relate to these computers” excuse, or you can be an active digital citizen and be part of mainstream 21st century culture – and understand what your kids, grandkids and fellow citizens are talking about. Both legitimate choices, but the second is so much more fun!

Note how all these actions are great for people still at work, too, but for retirees they are especially suited to fill the voids that not working, an empty nest, and the constraints of aging may create.

How to convey an explosion of color to the color blind?

Given all these great activities online, you’d think retirees, who suddenly have all that time on their hands, would jump at it all. The problem is that the baby boomers who now retire – and these are the earlier, older part of the boomers generation – are often not at ease with leading edge computing, and may have convinced themselves they’re too old to learn new tricks. Many are blind to the exuberance that the Net has to offer. My primary purpose in developing the retirement workshop lecture was to open their eyes to this explosion of color, of interest, and convince them they can do it.

The way I decided to do it was to introduce the subject gradually:

  • First I present the fascinating history of the Internet itself, from its ARPANET roots to the present. History of Computing is my hobby, so that came naturally.
  • Then I discuss Web 2.0, contrast it with the “old” Internet, and illustrate with a detailed example what makes a Social Network (which is the first time many in my audience will have had an opportunity to really understand this).
  • Then I go through the main social media that are a must-see, and illustrate what they’re about, contrasting them with the way things were done in earlier times. This includes Wikis, Blogs, Flickr, Delicious, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and – just for fun – Second Life.
  • And then I get to the “What’s in it for Me” part. I illustrate how these tools can be harnessed by a person with time on their hands; I share the excitement of using these media and creating amazing new friendships across the globe; and I do my best to convince my audience that it’s doable – and much easier to do than they thought. I conclude with some practical tips and Q&A.

To my very happy surprise, this lecture works very well. I’ve given it in a number of organizations and in private forums; it fascinates both lo-tech and more educated audiences, and from conversation with attendees it is clear that the message gets through, and their interest and curiosity are piqued. Of course not all of them will become ace bloggers or active digital seniors; but a few will, and the rest will at least know what their grandchildren (and the media, and the human race) are going on about.

For people undergoing the jarring transition into retirement, this can make a real difference!


If you want to order this lecture, or to incorporate it in a retirement workshop of your own, drop me a line. You can also see its brochure here (in Hebrew).