Technology is the spearhead of progress, pointing us ever towards the future and breaking down barriers that were once thought insurmountable. The trouble is that if you happen not to be following in the path of progress it’s easy to be left behind, watching the tech savvy coasting into the future on hoverboards and scanning the world with their AI spectacles rather than getting in on the action. For some this isn’t a bad deal; being a Luddite is comfortable and familiar. But others may want to catch up to the rest of the world so they might engage on an equal level. While this may not be a problem for most (living in the First World), it is an issue for one group in particular: senior citizens.
In her debut feature film, Cyber Seniors, Saffron Cassaday documents a program, created by her two sisters, wherein teenagers mentor senior citizens and teach them how to use computers and engage the world using technology. The movie profiles a small group of seniors in the program – including Cassaday’s own grandparents – and tracks their progress from technological neophytes to Skyping pros. Early lessons include learning how to turn a computer on, but by the end of the movie the pupils are engaging in a competition for the most hits on their YouTube videos.
A story about senior citizens learning to use technology could easily devolve into novelty, but Cassaday never goes there; rather, she presents a genuinely heartfelt story about people trying to connect. Each senior may have an individual goal: to find a companion, to achieve a small slice of fame, or to hear music, but they are all trying to reach out to people in their lives with whom they’ve fallen out of touch. When the webcams are finally set-up, it’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who occupy the monitors.
At the core of the film is the importance of technology as a means of connection. The notion may seem obvious, but it’s taken for granted in the days of texting-over-talking and Snapchat. Particularly for senior citizens, the ability to keep up and engage with the world can be a challenge. The movie does a good job of driving this point home. What’s more, it manages to do so with out being ironic. While watching I was struck by how genuine the whole exercise felt. Cassaday gives an earnest presentation of her subjects, which is uncommon in a culture awash with irony and self-reference. She has no agenda other than informing the world about the program and help those with similar needs. It’s a refreshing reminder that irony isn’t the only route to meaning.
In addition to the Cyber Seniors program, Cassaday also features a narrative about her own family. She explains that though her grandparents only live a short distance away, it has become increasingly difficult for her and her sisters to visit them. As the girls grow up and go away to college and start their own lives, they have to work to maintain contact. However, her grandparents are internet savvy, which offsets some of the difficulty keeping in touch. When one of the family members is diagnosed with an illness, everyone is able to stay in constant contact. Again, this is what Cyber Seniors does so well: it never loses focus on the importance of connection and how technology facilitates connection. Cassaday does a good job of tying everything into the main theme of the film, never flailing about or sprawling in search for meaning.
My only criticism is that, in its earnestness, Cyber Seniors lacks depth. It wears its heart on its sleeve and, as such, doesn’t require much mining for meaning. The movie conveys its message clearly and effectively, then ties up all its loose ends before the credits. This is tidy and to the point – just like everything else in Cyber Seniors – but it didn’t have me wanting more.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Cyber Seniors is an endearing and heartwarming film. It does a good job of addressing the uses and benefits of technology that may be obvious, but linking this utility to the detachment senior citizens experience as they grow older results in an interesting story. The story is also successful because of Cassaday’s genuine and straight forward approach to telling a story that could easily fall victim to irony. While it may not be a lasting classic, Cyber Seniors is definitely worth a watch.