5 tips for creating content with intergenerational appeal

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Japanexperterna.se
by Emerald O'Brien

The other day, I explained to a 60-year-old what it means to call someone or something "bae." I began by explaining that it started out as an acronym for "before anyone else" and has devolved into a pet name for any kind of significant other, with "other" not being confined to a living being (e.g. Netflix, the USA, the cute barista at Starbucks).

This isn't the first time I've been faced with this type of generational disconnect. Earlier this year I taught an older couple about the word ratchet. This is the same couple whose IBM computer, which has been gathering dust since it was given to them in 2005, is now in my possession so that I may teach them the sorcery that is the Internet.

Generation Y (Millennials) grew up with the Internet at its fingertips. While it isn't embedded in us quite like the new generation (Gen. Z), we are the first wave of adults – and journalists for that matter – who will create a world that has never not known technology. But until we say our final YOLO, we have to be aware of and cater to our audiences who may be less tech savvy than we are. 

Here are some things to keep in mind writing for those who defeat the phrase "user-friendly" by shocking lengths, as well as some tips for writing to an audience with iPhones where hands used to be.

After college (and in the final years of it), you start to fall out of the lingo-loop. Not to shame people who aren't up-to-date on what the kids are saying, nor to shame those who still are. But, when you aren't constantly in a non-professional environment filled with youths, it is harder to be hip to slang. Plus, at the rate the Internet comes up with new terms and memes, it is hard enough to stay on top of things as a student, let alone a working adult.

When you are writing for an audience that includes people of different ages, remember that lingo still needs clarifying. Even though "basic" is in the dictionary now, it still doesn't count as a common term, and you should explain it or cut it if you aren't writing for an under-17 magazine. 

Shortened Content
What do all of us short-attention-spanned young'ins love? Well, mostly articles with cat GIFs. But also brevity. When you are catering to an older audience not only is there more opportunity to create longer content, but it is also more necessary. You can and should explain yourself more. Also, leave content up on the screen longer, how can anyone read those things when they move so fast?

Intuitive technology
Touch screens are intuitive, right? Double-tap to like, pinch to zoom, high five to send a text. Old people with screens are like babies before they gain spatial reasoning. When you are making the next ground-breaking app or website, try to keep in mind that what is intuitive to the iGeneration may not be for others. Unless you are trying to make a better version of Skype/FaceTime; honestly, it's got to be a genetic thing where after 50, real-time video gets really, really confusing. 

On the other hand, young people have handicaps, too. Here are some things to keep in mind about your younger audience.

Historical context
When you are writing for a younger audience, remember that we didn't live through anything pre-1990 (or we weren't old enough to remember it). It is important to provide historical framing for a younger audience to understand a news situations, while an older audience will know how Reagan's policies shaped the current economy. Give us some background, and make it easy to understand, otherwise you will lose us. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down these assumptions about our historical knowledge!

What's a tax withholding? How about an HMO? They teach us this stuff in school, but we don't really know what a property tax is until we start paying it. Explain it, please, so we can stop just nodding our heads like we understand anything about taxes or legal procedures but not actually grasping it.

This isn't to say that these older generations won't need to learn each new piece of technology as it comes out, or that younger people won't understand the world around them more as they grow. But, in the meantime, we are going to have to meet each other half-way. Then, hopefully, future generations will do the same for us when we are huddled over the hologram trying to figure out what digitally synthesized button to press to get our grandson's floating image back in the room.

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