Apr 14, 2020 - Economy

Boomers to Zoomers: Older generations learn to love video chat

Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Expect more family video chats from grandma and grandpa moving forward, even after stay-at-home orders come to an end.

Driving the news: Passover seders and Easter celebrations across the country prompted several seniors to finally take the plunge and download Zoom.

The big picture: Older generations are usually slow to adopt new technologies, but history shows that when they finally do learn, they're hooked.

  • The "silent" generation — those born during and before 1945 — is Facebook's fastest-growing user base.

What the seniors are saying: Nearly a dozen told Axios they absolutely loved the experience.

  • "We used it on Wednesday night for three seders," says Mike Bovarnick, a 93-year-old retired Boeing executive living outside of Seattle with his wife Ruth, 89.
  • The Bovarnicks typically spend Passover with their close friends in the Seattle area, but this year, they were able to join their families for virtual celebrations with relatives living in the Bay Area and Philadelphia.
  • "There's no way we would ever been able to have seders with people in different parts of the country before," Bovarnick said. He adds that he and his wife have been doing services with their synagogue online since early March.

What their grandkids are saying: Several millennials told Axios about lengthy, painful and comical FaceTime calls with grandparents and parents to walk through the Zoom install process, which usually takes just a few minutes.

  • "On the second night of Passover, I experienced a new kind of plague — trying (and failing) to get my grandmother onto Zoom for a virtual seder," said Jenny Hurwitz, 30, a general manager of a recruiting company in New York City.
  • "After spending 57 minutes on FaceTime trying to explain the process (all while checking the brisket and stirring the matzoh balls) we realized it wasn't going to happen and gave up."

Others have complained that grandma and grandpa don't quite understand video conferencing etiquette.

  • "We stared at grandma's chin the whole time because she couldn't position the camera on her iPad correctly," said a 29-year-old social media manager living in Washington, D.C.

Be smart: Several people that Axios has spoken with say that Zoom feels like the easiest video option, tech-wise, compared to other video chat services.

  • "At work, they want us to use 'Teams,'" says Ron Moore, 63, a high school counselor living in Omaha, Nebraska, referring to Microsoft's video conferencing product Microsoft Teams. "But I've been using Zoom now for my ADL meetings and to talk to family and I like Zoom a lot better."
  • Several seniors say that before Zoom, they either never used video chatting, or they mostly relied on FaceTime to do video calls with family. For those that have used FaceTime, they said it is harder to accommodate big group chats than Zoom.

Between the lines: Seniors are also using the video tech for keeping up with other activities and life events, like doctor's appointments and social gatherings, that have been upended by the pandemic.

  • Gail Smith, 78, a psychotherapist in Broadview Heights, Ohio, said she anticipates using the tool to help her ease into retirement.
  • "It's opened up this whole world for me in terms of being able to work from home. All my years of doing therapy I've always been in office."
  • Richard Schoenfeld, 84, a retired doctor living in Maryland, says that he and his wife Sandra, 82, first started using Zoom during a funeral and shiva service for their son-in-law during the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
  • "Obviously the funeral and the shiva were not what we would want because in this situation, you want to go over and give hugs and kisses and comfort them as much as you can. But for our Israeli cousins, we could sit and talk to them like they were right there in our living room. So yes, there is a silver lining."

What's next: Several seniors say that Zoom has opened their eyes to the possibility of how distant friends and families can stay better connected virtually moving forward.

  • "I think yes, we will continue to use Zoom (after the pandemic is over)," says Schoenfeld. "I think that Zoom is great. I love that I can communicate with people I did not see very often and sometimes never. It's just a wonderful thing."
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