In a normally quiet parlor at Bethesda’s Fox Hill, nearly 20 students, mostly women in their seventies and eighties, are sitting around square tables—iPhones, iPads, and laptops powered on and reading glasses at the ready. Fifteen-year-old Jordyn Lemer stands before them, long blond hair tucked into a white baseball cap that reads “SocialCoach” in blue letters, with the icons for YouTube, Snapchat, and Pinterest floating in a nearby speech bubble (itself the icon for iMessage).
The Georgetown Day School sophomore assures the group—all condo owners at the senior-living community—that figuring out this internet thing will be easier than they think. She has lesson plans and helpers and handouts and hats, but already the students are peppering her with questions.
What’s FaceTime and how do I use it? What’s airplane mode? How do I add apps to my phone? How do I delete people from my Facebook?
The last question comes from 81-year-old Marlies Buhler, who says all the pictures of pets that people post are driving her nuts. Across from Buhler sits Peggy Conn, 84. She wants to figure out how to put her doctors’ appointments into iCal and how to check the weather in Florida and elsewhere in Maryland, where her children live.
Lemer doesn’t mind going off-plan. “My grandparents always ask me how to turn on their phones and how to text someone,” she says. “I realized there’s so many other people who need help with this, too. It’s so easy for us, but they think it’s rocket science.”
So in January, Lemer recruited some friends to start going into senior-living facilities twice a month to share the generational secrets of social media.
Right now, Buhler is receiving a crash course in FaceTime, Apple’s video-call app. She stares into her phone, adjusting her glasses and smiling at the prospect of seeing family back in Germany the next time she phones them. She’s also already coming up with questions for the next SocialCoach session.
“I felt like a dinosaur,” Buhler says, “but Jordyn’s so young and she knows everything. I’m learning so much—20 years late, though, I guess.” Then she adds, “What’s Instagram?”
Conn’s tech wish list is growing, too. Her husband died two years ago after 63 years of marriage. “Richard’s the one who taught me everything and did everything and set up everything,” she says. “Suddenly, I’m trying to find my way.”
Now she wants Lemer to run a session on how to deposit checks using her phone, as her grandson does. Her daughter installed the Capital One app on her phone for her.
At the end of the hourlong class, as the students thank their teachers, Buhler and Conn linger a little longer than the rest. “You are all amazing,” Buhler says to Lemer and her friends. “Plus, it’s lovely to be surrounded by young people.”
“Thanks,” the girls say, blushing under the brims of their SocialCoach hats and promising to come back soon.
This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Washingtonian.