We’ve all seen those hilarious YouTube videos with senior citizens unknowingly doing something out of character or contemporary. If I were to ask my own grandparents if they’d like to go “viral,” they would probably look at me and wonder why I asked them if they wanted to get sick. There is an obvious generational gap that can sometimes be funny, but Cyber-Seniors knows that it is no laughing matter.
Saffron Cassaday starts documenting a new program, where high school students help senior citizens figure out the basics from turning on the computer, to emailing and Facebooking, to even setting up a dating website. Many of them have absolutely no knowledge about technology made past the 1990s, so the kids have a tough task ahead of them. Luckily, they have very receptive students. Once they learn the basics, they set up a friendly competition between the people in the program to see which of their YouTube videos gets the most hits. While all of this is happening, Cassaday is also filming her own family’s struggle as they battle cancer on two fronts.
Even though these retirement homes are full of people, there are some feelings of isolation and alienation that are missing to preface the extreme need for these older people to try and become connected to a world they thought left them behind. Instead we only get to see the good side of these content senior citizens as they comically misuse internet terminology and functions. There is a certain level of frustration that isn’t shown.
I know from first hand experience that introducing new technology to a generation that grew up without it (i.e. my grandparents) is frustrating from both sides. It’s almost like the five stages of grief. First there is isolation, which is felt when they realize all of their family is only a few clicks away, but they don’t have the ability to reach them. Depression is how they feel after prolonged isolation. Bargaining can be the point in which they ask for help. Then there is anger, which they feel as they try to overcome this obstacle. Finally there is acceptance, which is when they have realized their need for connection and have learned how to do it. It can be a messy and ugly process, but Cyber-Seniors focuses only on the uplifting, inspirational side, potentially sugarcoating the real struggle in favor of an emotionally congruent film.
One of the senior citizens summed up my feelings for this documentary perfectly by saying, “Who could dislike something so innocuous?” Honestly, nobody would, and that is the focus of this documentary. It doesn’t touch on the fact that many older people are scammed or taken advantage of through the internet because they are ill-informed, but instead focuses on the optimistic truth that when used properly, the internet can bridge any communications gap. Also, by pairing each senior with a younger, more tech savvy counterpart, we see just how they can also bridge the generational gap.
Ultimately, Cyber-Seniors is a feel-good documentary filled with enough empathy and sentiment that you can’t dislike it for that. Even with the sprinklings of humor, Cassaday rarely deviates from the sunny path, which feels like a missed opportunity since there are deep, dark side roads left unexplored.
RATING: ★★★★★★(6/10 stars)