The constant advances in technology are commonly assumed to widen the chasm between generations young and old. The converse seemed evident Monday when four senior citizens and four Staples High School seniors gathered at the Westport Library for the first-of-its-kind dialogue co-sponsored by the AARP Westport-Weston Chapter 1588.
"Seniors to Seniors: A Conversation" had the students and senior citizens asking each other questions and sharing opinions about social media, the Internet, cyber-bullying, dating, standardized testing, leisure activities, fear and misconceptions.
The discussion, which was free and open to the public, welcomed audience participation from the 12 people, all older, who attended.
One woman in the audience expressed resentment that older people are marginalized and diminished. "We may be old, but we're not out, not by a long shot," she said.
On the flip side, Isabelle Pieper, 17, said she feels that young people's opinions are often overlooked. "In this more global world we're living in we're not just kids ... There are life experiences we don't have yet but we are very informed, and that shouldn't be ignored," she said.
Almost eight decades separated the Staples seniors and the "senior seniors," as the moderator referred to the older panelists, and while their life experiences are vastly different there were some shared opinions.
Betty Lou Cummings, 79, of Westport, said she loves using a computer. "I can't believe what you can learn on the Internet," she said. Staples senior Khaliq Sanda, 17, said technology is definitely a positive because of the constant flow of information, which allows people to know what's happening around the world.
But classmate Camilla Broccolo, 17, said with the 21st century information revolution young people know too much and it's all at their fingertips.
Norm Wholley, 90, of Stamford, agreed, saying, "There's so much information we're on circuit overload." He said he is bewildered by technology: "I have an iPad I'm still trying to master."
Cummings said the downside of technology is the number of people who live life with their nose down in their devices. Wholley wondered if the lack of civility in society can be attributed to the lack of face-to-face time, which is replaced with faces to screens.
While Adalena "Dal" Ugrin, 76, of Milford, said she loves the Internet because it allows her to stay connected to family in New Zealand, she is troubled by the lack of communication between people at the same dinner table, and the lack of accountability and anonymity that makes cyber-bullying easy.
Even the students had to agree there are some disadvantages to technology and social media, which ironically limits them socially. Pieper said she wishes she lived in a world where someone would call her on the phone to ask her on a date instead of by text "or write me a love letter."
Broccolo said most dating among young people goes on via text messaging, Facebook and video chatting. She also said kids are so over-scheduled today that they don't have the time to enjoy the simple pleasures that older people enjoyed in their youth.
"I wish I had time to lay on the grass and look at the sky ... There's no breathing time, not even on the weekends," she said. Sanda said kids do things they have to do rather than want to do in an effort to get into the best colleges. "Everyone wants this resume that goes from the ceiling to the floor."
Wholley said young people today are too programmed, but in his day, "There was a freedom there to explore on our own."
"Every part of our lives is centered around technology. It's very different from what our parents' lives were," said Robby Gershowitz, 17.
The dialogue concluded with advice from the senior citizens to the Staples seniors. Bill Buckley, 86, of Redding, told them not to fear failure: "Take a risk. I learned most in my life from mistakes. That's not the end. That's the beginning."
"Never, never lost your integrity; no matter what. It defines you," Ugrin said.
Cummings' advice was simply to "give a lot of hugs."
Stacy Enyeart of Westport, one of the people responsible for organizing the dialogue, said she envisions a series called Let's Talk. "It may not be just Seniors to Seniors. It could be other groups. I don't think we talk enough. We need to have different conversations," Enyeart said.