“OK Boomer” is the most recent meme-worthy catchphrase to go viral. The verbal eye roll—coined by millennials—isn’t just a succinct rebuttal to the decades-old “back-in-my-day” diatribe, it’s also a cutting insult meant to once and for all dismiss an entire generation that seems unyielding to an ever-evolving world.
But millennials in Denver might want to think twice before hurling the ageist attack, as mile-high seniors are flocking to a program called Senior Planet that offers new opportunities through technology. Their mission is “to enable older adults to come together and find ways to learn, work, create, and thrive in today’s digital age.” They promise to help seniors with almost anything they desire including: harnessing technology, getting in shape, saving money, and making new friends. They’re not just offering computer classes; they’re part of a larger movement that aims to flip the cultural narrative about aging. The current culture says the golden years are a time of decline, but the new narrative insists seniorhood is a time of vital rejuvenation and a jumping off point for new adventures.
The program, which opened in the Hanger 2 District in Lowry, looks more like a sexy silicone startup and less like what you might envision when you think of your grandpa taking a computer class. The space—complete with trendy chandeliers, a coffee bar, and modern art—is free and available to anyone sixty-plus. And the classes, which include Creating Your Own Website, Digital Storytelling, Fitness Essentials, Money Matters, and SmartPhone Photography, are already full with a waiting list.
The typical member might begin by taking a five or ten-week computer course from the “Basics” or “Essentials” series to learn fundamental digital skills and then go on to engage in lectures, workshops, or special events in one of the program’s five impact areas including: financial security, health and wellness, civic engagement, social engagement, and creative expression and lifelong learning.
State Director Khristine Rogers, said, “I think the most exciting thing happening is the growth of our mission to harness technology to change the experience of aging in urban, suburban, and rural Colorado. Our network of partners throughout the state is growing with new classes scheduled in Mesa County and other emerging statewide locations. We are excited to connect people through in-person and digital experiences that empower the possibilities for growth as we age.”
One of Senior Planet’s goals is to help their members envision, build, and grow their entrepreneurial aspirations. Rogers said, “The center has a dedicated space designed as an entrepreneur/innovation incubator where members can flesh out business ideas. Members participated in Startup Week in September by co-hosting a Longevity Economy pitch event. Volunteer consumer validators provided feedback to entrepreneurs about their products and services. But Senior Planet aims to do much more than just teach seniors about technology.
They’re also trying to build community both locally and internationally. One such opportunity will come on January 30, 2020, when Center Manager Judy Rough will connect Senior Planet members from Denver and other parts of the country to a group of fifty-plus seniors in South Africa. The real-time conversation, which will take place via Zoom video conferencing, will be broadcast “Brady Bunch” style and address the topic of older adults and work. Rough, who’s an international expert in aging and technology, said, “It not just for people interested in working; it’s more about the social and political impact on a nation and its generations. It’s about demonstrating digital intimacy with the use of this technology versus the digital divide that is happening in society today.”
So, will all this high-tech acumen and community-building be enough to bridge the generation gap? Well…maybe. At the very least, it’s a forward-looking step, and that might have some millenials changing their tone. Perhaps the next time you hear, “Ok Boomer,” it’ll be with less sarcasm and more encouragement, perhaps even punctuated by an exclamation point.
Senior Planet is funded through The Next Fifty Initiative,The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, The Gates Family Foundation, and a growing base of Senior Planet members and donors. To learn more visit www.seniorplanet.org/colorado, call 720-364-1038, or visit them in person at 7585 E. Academy Blvd. in Denver.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch