Devi Kar | Young and old can help each other and bridge the generation gap

The very young and the very old among human beings are caught up in the mere fact of living while all the in-betweens are mostly busy doing something with their lives. Together they represent the past, present and future and complete the overall picture. Therefore, it is essential that different generations and age groups are connected, otherwise the big picture becomes fragmented and people stop learning from each other. Moreover, the lack of connectivity leads to the waste of valuable and varied experiences of the past as well as the loss of valuable knowledge and expertise. An interdependent and connected society can reap rich dividends and make human existence far more meaningful.

An article I read recently, based on a Pew study published in June 2009 (Associated Press), points to a serious widening of the generation gap in the United States of America, a consequence of the rapid growth of information technologies. information. Yet another more recent study (Research by McCarthy and Stone) published in June 2022 (PRNewswire) titled, “Goodbye Generation Gap,” indicates that in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, the generation gap was considerably reduced. McCarthy and Stone happen to be the UK’s “leading developers and managers of retirement communities”. The study found that the older generation aged 60 and over (although greater longevity has changed the definition of old age in recent times) and the youngest (aged 18 to 59) spent 60 % more time talking to each other since
start of Covid-19. Evidence indicates that they comforted and supported each other and imbued each other with useful expertise and knowledge. Older people relied heavily on younger people for know-how and technological skills, while the younger generation looked to their elders for knowledge, experience and wisdom.

I don’t know if similar studies have been done in India. But we teachers have seen for ourselves how our students have stepped up to inspire even their tech-savvy teachers to become experts in holding virtual lessons. Some of my colleagues claim that they had learned more from their students than workshops and manuals. It reminds me of a little boy who set out to teach his grandfather how to communicate electronically and demystify it on social media, which almost all older people seemed deeply suspicious of.

When I asked him about the outcome of his lessons, he exclaimed in exasperation what a waste of time it was. “He didn’t learn anything,” he continued, “and couldn’t remember the simplest things”! Incidentally, this grandfather “who did not remember the simplest things” was an expert in corporate law. But despite the unproductive lessons, the rich connections that took place during the process were indeed invaluable.

If a conscious effort is made to harness the knowledge and expertise of older people, the younger generation would certainly gain, while the older generation would not feel useless before its time. One of the main reasons life is worth living is to feel needed and useful. Yes, grandparents are often mobilized to babysit while parents are at work, but that is not enough because this need decreases as grandchildren get older. Deliberate and determined intergenerational bonds are necessary to build a rich and integrated society.

When we speak of an inclusive society, we must remember the elderly. Even older people unable to actively contribute should be included in all family activities and deliberations. This would protect against ableism in general and make young people sensitive and caring and allow them to understand the aging process and the dangers that come with it – after all, they too will experience old age one day. It is a fact that people in between (i.e. parents, their contemporaries and their adult children who have not yet started a family) do not have the kind of time and leisure to give the company of young children as retirees do.

So far, this play has dealt with intergenerational bonds within the family, but if society is to benefit all of its members, bonds must be made at all ages, regardless of kinship. Today’s children spend most of their day at school, with their peers, or are busy with extracurricular activities, coaching or tutorials. There is hardly any “unscheduled” time when they can interact with seniors in a quiet, unhurried manner. I have observed that even when they have the chance to meet people from other age groups, they do not engage in meaningful conversation. They seem formal and exchange mostly obligatory banter. This is because people live and function in disparate compartments. To be effective, connectivity must be seamless, natural and organic. No wonder the 2009 Pew study found that the generation gap was widening. Predictably, the study referred to differences in perception about manners, morals, and cellphones, and not necessarily in that order. According to the two cited articles, the use of social media and electronic communication in general is responsible for widening the generation gap in the 21st century, and the Covid-19 pandemic for closing it — at least in the United States and Britain respectively.

Instead of allowing outside forces to widen or narrow the generation gap, society itself must establish and maintain links between generations to protect and enrich humanity.