I believe that social media and technology can be the connection that brings people together, and in our current socially distanced society, we need all the connections we can get. Older adults can find themselves feeling an additional separation from society when living in a senior living residence or nursing home. Their lack of understanding of technology and social media can prevent them from connecting with others, especially younger generations.
Those younger generations don’t get to interact with older generations much, unless there is a pre-established relationship, like family, neighbor, or family friends. Younger and older adults do not have natural everyday interactions.
“How can social media facilitate new relationships between older adults age 65+ and younger adults 18-25”?
My target audiences now has a platform that they can join to make personal connections and learn a little more about people who have different experiences than them, through building connections and sharing stories.
My target audience is young adults ages 18-25 and older adults ages 65+. I decided to focus my research on younger and older adults in these age brackets because of the limited connection opportunities that are available to them.
For my research portion, I used a mix of research styles. The majority of my observational research was conducted by joining online Facebook groups. Nursing homes or senior living residents mentioned the difficulty they had with connecting with family and friends as they get older, especially during the pandemic. From the Facebook posts, they had mentioned that they felt isolated and just wanted someone to talk to. Young adults on Facebook said that they valued getting wisdom and advice from older adults.
I put together 3 surveys which in total brought in 116 results and some great in depth answers. I asked questions based on the age of the survey taker to find out how social media and technology affected their lives based on age. Younger adults said they were fluent with it, spent most of the time communicating with friends and family, but limited time making new relationships outside of their age bracket. Older adults found technology and social media hard to understand, and even harder to learn. There didn’t seem to be a reason for them to want to learn a new social platform because the people they communicated with on a regular basis were their family or friends.
My interviews began as a way to find out more opinions on social media and technology but ended up being a great way to meet some amazing people. I interviewed 9 older adults, and asked them what kind of connections they appreciate, and also asked them some open-ended life questions to see how their life experience differs from my own as a younger adult.
Design Process + Testing
All this research, collected information, and great discussion lead me to my answer: Bridging Gaps. Bridging Gaps is a digital penpal experience that is made to connect students with senior living residents to bridge the generational gap and forge connections that can leave both parties with a new view on life and hopefully, a new friend.
Bridging Gaps starts with the user logging onto the Bridging Gaps website and creating a profile that builds the penpal experience that is right for them. The user gets to choose interests that will build their profile to be an extension of their personality. Whether they like gardening, sports, or movies, Bridging Gaps will then match users with a penpal that is similar to them and their interests to start their connection experience. They can choose from their recommended matches or hundreds of other penpals that are eager to start talking.
Alongside sending letters back and forth to the pen pal, the Bridging Gaps blog brings those connections into what older adults seem to want to do most: share stories. The student penpals will be able to write blog posts after interviewing their senior living pen pal, either with a list of questions they come up with, or ones that are recommended by Bridging Gaps. This creates an opportunity for both the students and older adults to reflect on their experiences and share them in a way they might not have ever before. These blogs can be shared on social media, both to encourage others to get involved in Bridging Gaps themselves, and to just inspire others to take the time to meet someone new.
In the ideation phase, I tested Bridging Connections with one person from each of my audience groups, one young adult and one older adult. Each participant took the time to walk through the app, give feedback, and suggest changes. The younger adult tester found the site as a great way to meet someone new. The older adult found the website to be easy to navigate and suggested expanding the reach further into senior programs, like church groups and community center groups. Bringing Bridging Gaps to other groups of people will be implemented in the next phase of Bridging Gaps development.