The Intergeneration Multiplied

Monday, August 7, 2017

As the awareness, dare I say popularity, of citizen science and the diy-culture grows, so does the need for spaces where all this can take place. Hacker- and makerspaces have started popping up around the world as not just places where people can learn and help each other in their hands-on projects but also as social places, alternatives to bars and cafés, where can hang out with friends, connect, reconnect and have designer beverages. One interesting idea, in countries with community public libraries, is to use space in these libraries as a makerspace by outfitting them with the usual maker armory such as wood and metal tools, work table, 3D printer, laser cutter and the like.

For a while now, I have viewed another potential in these makespaces. I have seen them as places where the older generation can transfer their knowledge and skills to the younger makers through programs that combine one-to-many classes as well as paired teams of mentors and their mentees around specific projects. Here is why and how:

In most societies, retirement is glorified as this golden age where you hang around grandkids or spend your time fishing in some bucolic spot. In reality, old age is often a vicious combination of ill- or mental-health and loneliness. John Prine’s heartbreaking words come to mind:

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wider ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say,
  “Hello in there, hello”

Getting the elderly to join makerspaces would give them an outlet for their creative energy and allow them to use their decades of experience to create things. It will also bring them in proximity of the younger members who have all the energy but little experience. Working together in teams, or also as longer-term mentor-mentee pairs, the old and the young can benefit from a synergistic relationship – the young getting the benefit of the older partner’s experience, and the old getting a charge from the younger person’s energy. Really, this is a no-brainer.

Proving the adage that all good ideas have already been thought of by someone else, A-M in Montréal was of a similar view. Working as a librarian at a community library, she is close to the possile transformation of the libraries into the newage makerspaces. My dream would be to see at least one of the libraries commit itself to converting the intergenerational divide into a potential multiplied.