Wallis Annenberg GenSpace Presents: Digital Bridges – Why the Future of Tech Depends on Older Adults

November 18, 2021
This first session of our Aging Out Loud series convened 13 technology and aging leaders for moderated conversations about intergenerational technology and age inclusivity.

GenSpace is proud to launch the Aging Out Loud Series, a sequence of convenings conducted by the Leadership Initiative at Wallis Annenberg GenSpace. This first event, Digital Bridges – Why the Future of Tech Depends on Older Adults, brought together 13 technology and aging leaders for moderated conversations about intergenerational technology and age inclusivity.

The conversation was opened by Annenberg Foundation’s Executive Director Cinny Kennard, who highlighted GenSpace’s unique role as a center for older adults to seek connection and community while also leading the dialog on combating ageism. She outlined the vision Wallis Annenberg has for GenSpace and the importance it will continue to play in California, which has an older population that is growing three times faster than the rest of the country.

During the first panel discussion, “Logging on in Lockdown”, dot.LA’s Managing Editor Rachel Uranga, led panelists Matt May, Anne Toth, and Chelsea Bakewell in a conversation focused on bridging the tech gap. Panelists discussed how the large migration to online events exposed the gap in access and the need to ensure tech accessibility and inclusivity for older adults. 

“If we live to be 150 years old we will encounter what we would normally consider to be a disability as a consequence of aging, but the thing that actually makes technology valuable is the ability to extend the amount of time we can live independently.”

Anne Toth, Director of Alexa Trust, Amazon

Following the panel was a fireside chat between Big & Mini’s co-founder Aditi Merchant and social media stars The Old Gays. Their conversation emphasized that connectivity and intergenerational experiences contribute to a healthy and fulfilled long life for both generations and more should be done to foster these relationships.

“Our society tends to push people into age silos, where older adults and young people exist in their own social spaces that can lead to generational stereotypes on both sides that affect the way that we look at each other. By having these conversations we have this ability to come together and really learn from each other beyond these stereotypes.”

Aditi Merchant, Co-Founder of Big & Mini

During the second panel discussion, “Aging Together,” panelists David Rhew, Joe Coughlin, and John Zapolski exchanged ideas with Spectrum News host Alex Cohen as moderator. A key takeaway from “Aging Together” was the concept that companies fall short by developing for the perceived needs and wants of older adults when simply providing the best product and making it accessible to all would lead to the most success. The panel discussed the importance of age-friendly designs in a myriad of ways, but one common thread was the need to make fun, innovative technology that considers the wants of the aging community. 

“I want entrepreneurs and designers to invent life tomorrow, for a stage of life that is unprecedented – more people are living longer than ever before… real innovation is not about responding to the consumer, anyone can do that, it is about exciting and delighting them in a way they could never have imagined and that’s inventing life tomorrow.”

Joe Coughlin, Founder & Director, MIT AgeLab

The keynote address was delivered by designer Gretchen Addi. Addi emphasized that technology should be designed by and for teams representing as many generations as possible.

“I see technology as a tool – an often invaluable tool – to solve for what people need. We live in a time of great technological innovation but we need to stop seeing age as decline and start talking about what we need to do for older adults and make them part of the solutions.”

Gretchen Addi, Designer

The event’s closing speaker, Wallis Annenberg GenSpace Director Dr. Jennifer Wong, reiterated that as the first of many in a series of thought-provoking convenings, Digital Bridges strives to honor the mission of Wallis Annenberg GenSpace to provide a vibrant community space for aging and intergenerational programming. 

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